West Virginia shatters records in Big 12 debut

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia center Joe Madsen entered the press conference room at Milan Puskar Stadium, sweat still dripping from his matted-down mohawk after the Mountaineers’ 70-63 win over Baylor, and plopped down, exhausted, in the first empty chair he saw.
“I’ve been a part of 70 points before,” the senior Madsen said, referring to last season’s 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. “But nothing like that.”
Say what you will about ninth-ranked West Virginia’s viability as a national championship contender in the team’s second season under head coach Dana Holgorsen, but one thing that won’t be questioned again after Saturday’s victory to move to 4-0 on the season is the Mountaineers’ ability to score.
In its impressive Big 12 debut against a 25th-ranked Bears team that had come in winners of nine straight games, West Virginia found the end zone over and over and over again — seemingly doing so at will more often than not — and the Mountaineers broke nearly every school record you could think of in the process.
“If that wasn’t exciting, then you need to check your blood pressure,” Mountaineers offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said afterward. “You might need to go see a heart doctor.”
Quarterback Geno Smith shattered his own school marks in completions (45), passing yards (656) and passing touchdowns (eight) in the game, while throwing just six incomplete passes. His 83.4 percent completion rate through four games is the best mark in the nation.
“Last week people were saying we were the worst offense in the country because we only scored 31 points on Maryland,” Smith said. “Every game has a different story, and this one was about us pushing through on offense, and I think we did a great job of overcoming adversity.”
Wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin were the primary benefactors of the Heisman front-runner’s career day, as Bailey’s 303 receiving yards set a school record, and Austin’s 215 yards receiving (on a school-record 14 catches) were good for second-all time.
“I don’t necessarily get caught up in the records; I just want to do whatever I can to try and help my team,” Bailey said. “I kind of had a chip on my shoulder from last week. I put a couple balls on the ground and didn’t get my 100 yards (against Maryland) that I try to get every week.”
In addition to a two-yard TD pass to Bailey and a seven-yard strike to J.D. Woods, who set a career high with 114 receiving yards, himself, Smith — who, amazingly, said he could have done better — also threw touchdown passes of 20, 39, 45, 47, 52 and 87 yards and averaged 20 yards per completion on the afternoon.
But according to Dawson, it was Smith’s ability to do the little things that led to such a big day.
“It really comes down to making routine plays,” Dawson said. “You lose sight of that because you think about some great plays people made. But the game was really made up of making routine plays and not turning the football over, pushing the ball down field and putting it in play.”
Unfortunately, making routine plays won’t be quite as easy against the rest of the league, and making a run at a conference title in their first Big 12 go-around could prove difficult if the Mountaineers don’t start getting better efforts out of their defense than the one they got Saturday.
Baylor gained 700 yards of offense in the loss — the 1,507 combined yards between the teams shattered the stadium record by nearly 500 yards — and quarterback Nick Florence and wide receiver Terrance Williams each set school records with 581 yards passing and 314 yards receiving, respectively.
“To say that the defenses didn’t play very well is an understatement,” Holgorsen said of his team. “We have eight more conference games; we have to continue to do what we’re doing and we have to get better.”
According to defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, however, Saturday’s 63 points allowed were deceiving against a potent offense like Baylor’s.
“You’ve got to measure success differently in this league,” DeForest said. “It’s not how many yards you give up; it’s not how many points. Obviously it’s not acceptable to do what we did today, but it’s the way of life versus those (top) offenses. Ultimately, you’ve got to make one more stop than they do, one more turnover than they do, and you win the game. And that’s what we did.”
Even so, it’s unfair and impractical to put that much pressure on the offense — even one as dominant as West Virginia’s — week in and week out, and the Mountaineers will pay dearly as conference play rolls on, starting next Saturday at No. 12 Texas, if the defense keeps forcing the offense to bail them out.
“It makes it scary on the offense, having to try to make plays all the way to the final drive,” Bailey said. “If you look at it and say 70 points is not safe, that’s crazy.”
Crazy? Yes. Daunting, definitely. But it’s a challenge the confident and high-scoring West Virginia offense is more than willing to face head-on, and, at least for this week, the Mountaineers showed they’re up to the task.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” the center Madsen said, “because I knew we were going to score every time we had the ball.”