Rutgers, WVU grab early momentum in Big East
The gaudy passing numbers by West Virginia show that athletic
director Oliver Luck’s hiring of Dana Holgorsen is paying off.
With the rise of Geno Smith as one of the nation’s most prolific
quarterbacks, No. 13 West Virginia is well ahead of Luck’s early
hunch that Holgorsen’s offense would need a year or so to take
It’s rooted, all right.
The Mountaineers, along with surprising Rutgers, are setting the
early pace in an unpredictable Big East that’s already seen some
head-turning results. They’ll soon be joined by the winner of this
week’s matchup between host Cincinnati and Louisville as the only
remaining teams without a loss in conference play.
”I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at right now,”
Holgorsen said. ”We’re getting better every week. I’ve said it for
a while, the only way we’re going to win the championship is if all
three sides of the ball are improving every week. Coaches, players,
everybody’s bought in.”
In 2010, 523 yards of offense was a season high under former
coach Bill Stewart.
With Holgorsen, it’s a normal day’s work.
West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) is scoring in bunches, just as
Holgorsen’s teams did before he was lured away from Oklahoma State.
A lack of offensive production was one reason Holgorsen was hired
as offensive coordinator last December. He was elevated to head
coach after Stewart was forced out in June.
West Virginia has surpassed 43 points or more three times this
season. It scored 40 only twice in Stewart’s three seasons.
Smith is third nationally with 2,159 passing yards and tied for
sixth with 16 touchdown passes. Stedman Bailey has four straight
100-yard receiving games and teammates Ivan McCartney and Tavon
Austin also are getting plenty of catches.
Holgorsen will be pressed to keep up the pace in a challenging
second-half schedule in West Virginia’s quest to return to its
first BCS bowl since 2007. West Virginia returns to play four of
its final six conference games on the road against teams with a
combined 21-11 record.
One overriding issue has been the offense’s inability to start
fast. The Mountaineers have fallen behind early in all but one game
and they even trailed FCS Norfolk State at halftime.
They’ve always responded with a spark, usually from Smith. On
Saturday, West Virginia led Connecticut 10-9 at halftime before
scoring 33 unanswered points. Smith finished with 450 passing yards
and four touchdowns.
”The fact that we’re good in spurts is better than the
alternative, I guess,” Holgorsen said. ”There’s going to be
adversity, which we’ve faced … and we’ve overcame it and we’ve
The Mountaineers have a week off before traveling to Syracuse on
Oct. 21. Holgorsen doesn’t believe his team’s challenges will be
any different. West Virginia built a 24-point lead in its only road
game at Maryland before holding on for a 37-31 win.
”Not only do we have to play good at home,” he said, ”we’ve
got to learn how to travel and go into somebody else’s place and do
If that happens, the Big East, which could use some good news
with recent defections of football members, won’t be the only BCS
conference without a Top 10 team.
Just as Holgorsen is making the right moves, so too is Rutgers
coach Greg Schiano, whose offseason reshuffling of the defense and
recent decision to start freshman quarterback Gary Nova are reaping
The Scarlet Knights (4-1) are 2-0 in conference play for the
first time since 2006 with a nonconference game looming Saturday
Rutgers wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the season started, not
after losing its last six games a year ago following the paralyzing
injury to Eric LeGrand.
At the end of 2010, Schiano was fed up with his sluggish
defense, so he moved several returning starters to other positions
in the offseason to infuse more speed.
Justin Francis, who shifted from defensive end to defensive
tackle, had a career-high eight stops, including two of the team’s
six sacks, in a 34-10 dismantling of Pittsburgh last week.
Safety-turned-linebacker Khaseem Greene posted 11 tackles to boost
his team-high total to 45.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Logan Ryan had two of Rutgers’ four
interceptions against Pittsburgh. He returned one of them for a
Who’s sluggish now? The Scarlet Knights are giving up 15 points
per game, 11th best in the FBS, and are tied with South Carolina
with 22 takeaways, the most in the nation.
Nova snared his first start against Pittsburgh after rallying
Rutgers in relief of Chas Dodd to a double-overtime win over
Syracuse. Against the Panthers he threw for 174 yards and two
And don’t forget about Mohamed Sanu, the conference leader with
”What I’m excited about is the way our guys have come together,
the chemistry on our team,” Schiano said. ”We had as tough a year
last year as we’ve ever had around here. And for a lot of reasons.
We’re not there yet, but I like the direction we’re heading.”
Circle Oct. 29 on the calendar, when West Virginia plays at
Rutgers in a key game in the league title chase.