West Virginia looks to avoid another slow start
Two games, two slow starts for No. 21 West Virginia has coach Bill Stewart concerned about the Mountaineers' offense.
They Mountaineer have struggled to develop any first-half consistency on offense. West Virginia fell behind by 15 points at Marshall before escaping with a 24-21 overtime win last week.
''You can't get yourself in that predicament as we did,'' Stewart said Tuesday. ''We hung together. We were resilient. Hopefully we can bounce back and have a good year.''
West Virginia (2-0) will need a quicker start on Saturday to keep up with Maryland (2-0); the Terps' 62-3 win over Morgan State last week was their highest scoring output in 35 years.
Stewart has been bombarded this week with questions about play calling.
Noel Devine was limited to 24 rushing yards in the first half against Marshall. Quarterback Geno Smith completed his first nine passes, but with little to show for it. In the second quarter, West Virginia turned the ball over on downs inside the Marshall 10 and Smith was sacked twice to end another drive.
''Can you open up the passing game a little bit to help the running game?'' Stewart said. ''I think that's a thought.''
Stewart defended his offensive line, which struggled with pass protection early against Marshall. Stewart points out the offense rolled up 469 yards for the game and that Smith was untouchable on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives of more than 95 yards.
Nonetheless, he hinted that the line - despite four returning starters - must become more cohesive.
''They're a work in progress,'' he said.
The same is true with his offense as a whole.
The Mountaineers limped to a 10-0 halftime lead in the opener against Championship Subdivision foe Coastal Carolina, then scored on three of their first four drives of the second half in the 31-0 rout.
At Marshall, West Virginia fell behind 14-3 and fumbled the ball away at the Thundering Herd 27 on the first offensive play of the third quarter.
''What kind of team would not have folded their tent?'' Stewart said. ''A team that isn't tough. A team that doesn't have resiliency. A team that doesn't believe. A team that hasn't been through the school of hard knocks. We didn't. So it showed me something. We came back.
''We preached all year about finishing. We finished. We just didn't start and play the middle of it very well.''
Just as West Virginia must figure out its own troubles, the Mountaineers will be wondering which Maryland team will show up.
The Terps gave up 429 yards on the ground to Navy and needed a goal-line stand in the final minute to beat the Midshipmen 17-14 in the season opener.
Then on four days' rest, Maryland overpowered Morgan State. The Terps allowed only 85 yards - the fewest in coach Ralph Friedgen's 10 seasons. The rout was impressive considering starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson was pulled in the second quarter with Maryland ahead 24-0.
West Virginia's defense has allowed seven points after halftime so far but won't be operating at full strength on Saturday. Starting linebacker Pat Lazear missed the first two games with a leg bruise and isn't fully recovered.
''I just can't say he's going to play this week,'' Stewart said.
And on Tuesday Stewart announced the indefinite suspension of all-Big East cornerback Brandon Hogan following a weekend drunken driving arrest. Backup redshirt freshman Brodrick Jenkins, who has yet to register a tackle this season, will battle for Hogan's starting spot along with sophomore Pat Miller and senior Brantwon Bowser.
''Our defense is going to have its hands full,'' Stewart said.