Geno Smith is at the center of West Virginia’s Big 12 hopes. (Dan Estel/All-Pro Photography)
Examining the ups and downs, the dividends and downticks, from West Virginia’s 70-63 win over Baylor:
The Heisman chatter is absurd this early in the season, especially for an award that sacrificed all credibility when Charles Woodson trumped Peyton Manning in 1997. Besides, who needs the Heisman when Geno Smith should be president. He is performing at a degree amazing even to his teammates and coaches, and not just the fawning national media. His mind-warping 45-of-51 passing day was not one for stat-padding — West Virginia needed every one of Smith’s eight touchdown passes to put down an equally explosive Baylor team.
Smith’s 656 passing yards were the fifth-most in Division I history, and his day would have been even a smidgen better if not for a drop by Ivan McCartney. In extending his interception-free streak of passes to 222, Smith was in a target-practice groove throughout. He had streaks of 14 and 12 consecutive completions, and yet he declined to label it his best game, because "I’ve got a lot of games left."
Running backs (UP)
Coach Dana Holgorsen said Shawne Alston spent most of the game in the training room getting treatment for a thigh bruise that kept him out for a second week. Meanwhile, Andrew Buie’s 25 carries nearly doubled his previous number of attempts for the season, and he held up well with 82 yards. The sophomore also came through in short-yardage situations, converting a pair of 1-yard scores and a third-and-2 near midfield. Dustin Garrison appeared stronger in his second week of work, picking up 28 yards on three carries, including a 17-yard third-and-1 run that sealed the win in the final 90 seconds.
With wide receivers running free in the secondary, the running backs weren’t a factor in the passing game Saturday. After averaging 55 yards receiving during the first three weeks, they combined for only 6 against Baylor. Exactly nobody is worried about that stat.
A 656-yard passing exhibition isn’t the work of a quarterback alone, and three West Virginia receivers enjoyed spectacular efforts. J.D. Woods caught 13 balls for 114 yards, giving opposing defenses yet another weapon to fear. He won inside position to snag a 7-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and, on WVU’s final series, made a one-handed 13-yarder on what Smith called a "terrible throw" that could have been intercepted.
Tavon Austin caught his two touchdown passes within a three-minute span in the third quarter. On the first, he ran a short crossing route, shook off Baylor cornerback Chance Casey, and zipped 45 yards to give WVU a 42-35 lead. On the next series, he sped away from the coverage of linebacker Bryce Hager and also got behind cornerback Joe Williams for a 52-yard score. Austin closed the day with 14 receptions (a WVU single-game record) covering 215 yards. And yet he played second fiddle because …
Stedman Bailey made five touchdown catches of 47, 20, 2, 87 and 39 yards during a 13-reception effort. Working out of the slot at times to confuse coverage, his 303 receiving yards briefly established a Big 12 mark, until Baylor’s Terrance Williams reached 314 on the Bears’ final series. A week after dropping two balls against Maryland, Bailey wanted to be flawless in the conference opener, but going for 300 yards? Really?
"I’d never even thought about a receiver getting 300," he said, "but then I saw where that Arkansas receiver had done it last week, and I thought maybe me or Tavon could do it."
If Bailey had a regrettable moment, it was an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for spiking the ball after his first TD. He reined in his celebrations on the forthcoming four.
Offensive line (UP)
The first series ended ominously when left tackle Quinton Spain allowed an edge blitzer to come free, resulting in a third-down sack that extended a field-goal try to 50 yards. But that was one of the few miscues for a unit that provided Smith with watertight protection the rest of the day. (Spain later planted defensive end Chris McAllister on Smith’s 20-yard TD pass to Bailey. The 6-foot-5 sophomore also delivered a crunching peelback block against Baylor’s Hager to spring Woods on a reverse.)
For another punishing moment, there was center Joe Madsen bench-pressing Baylor defensive lineman Nick Johnson to the turf on Buie’s first scoring run. Madsen was named the coaches’ offensive champion, marking the second time this season that Geno Smith was the player of the week nationally yet not on his own team.
Defensive Line (DOWN)
This unit helped create some pass rush in the first half, but became less effective as the day progressed. With five solo tackles and a pass deflection, defensive end Will Clarke was named the coaching staff’s defensive champion. (Some theorized the honor might be left vacant this week.)
The defensive line rotated in its second unit — a necessity with Baylor running 92 plays — but Dana Holgorsen questioned whether the defense should have substituted even more liberally.
If it’s possible to have a quiet 13-tackle day, redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce did so. But the Sam linebacker wasn’t so quiet afterward when he said: "The main stat is the ‘W’ but to get to where want to go, as national champs or Big 12 champs, this is not going to get the job done."
Star linebacker Terence Garvin made two first-half sacks, but committed a silly roughing-the-passer infraction and struggled in pass coverage.
Will linebacker Doug Rigg had a sack and a hurry among his eight tackles, while Buck linebacker Josh Francis made seven stops.
On Baylor’s second play from scrimmage, boundary safety Darwin Cook intercepted a tipped pass near midfield. And that was it for the secondary’s highlights. That’s the list. The remainder of the afternoon saw Baylor’s receivers reciprocating to WVU what Bailey, Austin and Woods were doing to Baylor.
The first of Terrance Williams’ 17 catches turned out to be foretelling: the big receiver capitalizing on Pat Miller’s cushiony coverage for a 50-yard gain across the middle of the field. The starting jobs of Miller and fellow cornerback Brodrick Jenkins figure to be on tenuous standing for next week’s game at Texas. (Though freshman backup Nana Kyeremeh looked shellshocked trying to cover Williams on Baylor’s final touchdown.) Jenkins made a tactical gaffe on Baylor’s 67-yard end-of-half score and was roasted by Williams on a 37-yard TD in the third quarter.
And there were other flubs. Safety Karl Joseph was late getting lined up opposite Baylor slot receiver Tevin Reese, who turned a wheel route into a 65-yard touchdown. On Baylor’s next series, Joseph lunged to grab Reese for a 15-yard pass interference flag that likely saved another touchdown.
Cook had the best day of a woeful lot. He nearly created a second turnover by jarring the ball loose from Williams after a catch, but replays overturned the fumble and ruled the pass incomplete.
Special teams (DOWN)
Tyler Bitancurt was 10-of-10 on PATs, but pushed a 50-yard field-goal try wide right.
Corey Smith’s lone punt was a line-drive 45-yarder that netted zero after Levi Norwood’s 45-yard return. Mike Molinari handled WVU’s other punt, which traveled only 31 yards.
Austin had two kick returns for 72 yards, but Jordan Thompson’s lone runback left WVU backed up at its own 13.
Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson could write a how-to book based on Saturday’s output, and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital warrants kudos for his handling of Smith. The defensive side, however, was abysmal. And the fact that Baylor’s defense was somehow worse is no consolation to a WVU squad with designs on BCS contention.
"To say the defenses didn’t play very well would probably be an understatement," Holgorsen said.
Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest sounded flabbergasted at the prospect of his guys repeatedly being in position to make plays yet failing to do so.
"(Baylor) never out-schemed us. They did exactly what we thought they were going to do," DeForest said. "They ran four routes and they ran four runs. That’s it. But apparently we did a poor job as a coaching staff of being able to stop those four passes and four runs. What do you do? If you’ve got an answer, tell me."
The answer had better come soon, with WVU staring at a month’s worth of ranked opponents: Texas (No. 11 AP/No. 9 coaches), Texas Tech (No. 24 coaches), Kansas State (No. 7/No. 8) and TCU (No. 15/No. 13).
"We’ll make some personnel changes," DeForest vowed. "(Because) if we’re going to contend in this league, we’ve got to fix it."