Geno Smith and Tavon Austin had the kind of Senior Day made for scrapbooks, and junior Stedman Bailey excelled in what also may have been his college sendoff.
The Mountaineers raced out to a four-touchdown halftime lead and carved up Kansas 59-10 behind its trio of stars who built one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Smith’s 23-of-24 passing day went for 407 yards and three touchdowns, Austin racked up 187 yards of offense, and Bailey made 11 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12), which won its second straight after a five-game losing skid, is expected to receive an invitation to the Pinstripe Bowl on Sunday. But as coach Dana Holgorsen said after the game, “We’ll be happy to go about anywhere.”
Smith recovered from a first-quarter interception to close the afternoon with a school-record 21 straight completions.
With seven minutes left before WVU sent Kansas to its 21st consecutive Big 12 loss, Holgorsen removed Smith, Bailey and Austin, sparking a rousing cheer from the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd.
“They had a tremendous amount of fun out there,” Holgorsen said. “I’m excited about the way we finished.”
Austin caught 10 passes for 110 yards and ran 12 times for 77 more. On his final carry, he stretched the football across the goal line for a 1-yard score that made it 52-7 in the third quarter.
Bailey, in what might have been his final collegiate home game, caught an 8-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 16-yarder that gave WVU a 45-7 third-quarter lead. The national leader in touchdown receptions with 23, Bailey is a candidate to enter the NFL draft after his junior season.
“I’m not sure about that yet,” Bailey said. “I’m really not.”
Smith found Bailey for 45 yards on the game’s first play, setting up Andrew Buie’s 2-yard touchdown run. Buie gained 100 yards on 12 carries and caught two passes for 57 yards — part of WVU’s 647-yard output.
Shawne Alston added a 2-yard score of his own later in the first quarter, after J.D. Woods snagged a 50-yard catch on second-and-24.
Austin’s 31-yard run started WVU’s next drive, a five-play, 61-yarder that culminated with Bailey’s 8-yard touchdown screen catch and a 21-0 lead.
Kansas (1-11, 0-9), which started Dayne Crist at quarterback only to see him go 1-of-5 with an interception, switched back to Michael Cummings, who lobbed a 42-yarder to Tony Pierson. That led to a James Sims 1-yard touchdown run that trimmed the deficit to 21-7 and temporarily gave the Jayhawks life.
Temporarily. West Virginia mounted two touchdown drives in the final seven minutes of the half to go up 35-7, and a Smith-to-Austin connection was crucial to both.
Austin caught a 44-yarder preceding Alston’s 1-yard scoring plunge that made it 28-7. After a Kansas three-and-out, Austin caught a 32-yarder leading to Woods’ 8-yard score.
Smith threw for 279 yards in the first half on 14-of-15 passing — his only incompletion a midfield interception by Kansas cornerback Tyler Patmon. But Crist returned the favor four plays later, throwing a tipped pass that was picked off by free safety Karl Joseph at the goal line and returned to the Mountaineers’ 23.
West Virginia’s defense held KU to 3-of-14 on third-down conversions and 274 yards. After entering the day averaging 216 rushing yards per game, the Jayhawks managed only 157 yards (3.5 per rush).
“(The defense) has been improving,” Holgorsen said. “Since that bye week, I think we’ve gotten better against some very good offensive teams.”