West Virginia’s Tavon Austin just can’t get enough of Maryland.
Austin caught three touchdown passes in another remarkable game against his home-state Terrapins and No. 8 West Virginia outlasted Maryland 31-21 on Saturday.
A Baltimore native, Austin accounted for half of West Virginia’s offense, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and setting a school record for career receptions.
”It was my last time playing Maryland,” said Austin, a senior. ”So there was a little bit on the line for me.”
It’s a good thing for the Mountaineers he felt that way.
Despite scoring two early touchdowns, West Virginia (3-0) looked flat at times, after averaging 56 points and 612 yards in its first two games against non-BCS conference opponents.
The Mountaineers punted on four of their first five possessions of the second half but wouldn’t let Maryland (2-2) cut into a double-digit lead in beating the Terrapins for the seventh straight time.
”We didn’t play our best offensively,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. ”But it was enough.”
Leading rusher Shawne Alston was limited by a thigh bruise and didn’t get a carry. West Virginia was held to 25 yards on the ground.
Geno Smith often threw into tough coverage and had as many incompletions in the first half (nine) as he did in the first two games combined. He spent a lot of time getting knocked on his backside and finished 30 of 43 for 338 yards.
”I wasn’t as sharp as I wanted to be,” Smith said. ”That’s a credit to Maryland. They did a great job of mixing things up and giving us different looks.”
Smith found a groove just before halftime, throwing for 64 yards on a drive capped by a 24-yard pass to Austin alone in the end zone for a 24-14 lead.
Maryland freshman Perry Hills threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, two to freshman Stefon Diggs.
Hills had some success moving the Maryland offense with misdirection plays and screen passes. Maryland had more yards at halftime (212) than it did all of last week in a home loss to Connecticut.
But Hills was sacked five times and had little luck in the second half. With Maryland facing fourth-and-21 from its 32 with four minutes left in the game, Hills was intercepted by Wes Tonkery at the West Virginia 28 and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
”I’m disappointed that we made some of the errors that we made that didn’t allow us to have an opportunity to win toward the end of the game,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. ”I thought our defense played pretty well. Definitely thought we played well versus the run.”
The game was billed as a matchup of all-purpose talent, and Austin and Diggs didn’t disappoint.
Austin now has 208 career receptions, breaking the mark of 206 set by Jock Sanders from 2007-10. In three games against Maryland, he had 31 catches for 407 yards.
”This was Tavon’s best game,” Holgorsen said. ”He played fast. His energy on the sidelines was tremendous. He was the one guy offensively who played his best game. I can’t say that about the rest of them.”
Diggs had a 42-yard scoring catch in the first quarter and a 56-yarder midway through the fourth. He caught three passes for 113 yards and had 63 yards on kick returns and 25 yards on punt returns.
”I went to him at the end of the game and told him that he was a good player – but I couldn’t let a young guy outshine me,” Austin said.
On Maryland’s second series of the game, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook slipped through the middle of the line unblocked and knocked the ball from Hills. Linebacker Doug Rigg scooped up the loose ball and went 51 yards for West Virginia’s second defensive touchdown of the season.
It was a role reversal of the key play of January’s Orange Bowl, when Rigg forced a fumble that Cook returned for a TD – and famously knocked over the Orange Bowl mascot – in a rout of Clemson.
Late in the first quarter, Austin caught a pass up the middle, bounced off a defender and went 44 yards up the right sideline to put the Mountaineers ahead 14-0. Austin capped West Virginia’s scoring with a 34-yard reception midway through the fourth.