By Cam Huffman
LANDOVER, Md. —
West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen said leading into Saturday’s meeting with James Madison that he expected a bigger challenge than what his Mountaineers faced in a 69-34 win over Marshall in the season opener.
Maybe next week.
The Dukes did keep WVU out of the 60s — and even the 50s, perhaps spoiling a few friendly wagers — but the ninth-ranked Mountaineers were clicking from the start at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins, and they put the game away before JMU could even start to dream about an upset. WVU (2-0) scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and ran away with a 42-12 victory over the fifth-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, keeping its record of never losing to an FCS squad alive.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “I think we got better on all three sides of the ball. We came in with the objective of hoping that would happen and hoping that we would be able to play a lot of kids.”
Geno Smith continued to post Heisman Trophy-like numbers, throwing for 411 yards and five touchdowns and completing 34 of 39 attempts. He left the game after just one play in the fourth quarter. Through two games this year, Smith has thrown only nine incompletions on 75 attempts. That number is equal to the touchdown passes he’s thrown this season.
Smith’s performance against the Dukes made him WVU’s all-time leader in passing yardage, surpassing the record held by former NFL Pro Bowl MVP Marc Bulger. He’s now thrown for more than 8,200 yards in three seasons as a starter.
“It’s the second week in a row that Geno has played really good,” said Holgorsen. “He got us out of some bad situations. He’s doing a great job of making checks. He’s getting us in the right plays, his completion percentage is off the charts and he’s not taking sacks.”
JMU (2-1) had chances to make things interesting, twice driving within a yard of a touchdown in the third quarter.
The first came when the Dukes reached the WVU 1-yard line on the first possession of the second half, after the Mountaineers turned the ball over on downs when Shawne Alston was stopped on a fourth-and-two at the JMU 48-yard line. Holgorsen admitted in his postgame interview that he probably should have punted in that situation but also explained that he had no issue with challenging his defense.
The Dukes, down 28-3 at that point, drove the field and had a chance to pull closer, but on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, the WVU defense stopped Jordan Anderson short on a sweep.
JMU did find points on the ensuing play, when Alston was tackled in the end zone for a safety, and after WVU answered with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Stedman Bailey — the high school teammates’ third scoring connection of the game — the Dukes got back to within a step of pay dirt.
This time, on a third-and-goal from the 6, Tyler Anderson intercepted a tipped Justin Thorpe pass in the end zone, and WVU drove 80 yards to officially put the game on ice with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first play of the fourth quarter that put the Mountaineers ahead 42-5.
“Being put in those situations is something you can’t simulate in practice,” said WVU co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson of the goal line stands, which came on an afternoon when the Mountaineers honored one of their all-time defensive greats, NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff. “So that was a really good situation. I liked the way our kids bowed their necks and kept them out of the end zone.”
The WVU offense, which has now scored 181 points in three games in 2012 — including the 70-33 win over ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl in January — was in midseason form in the opening quarter, scoring on drives of 71, 64 and 77 yards to take a 21-0 lead. WVU mixed the run with the pass, gaining 142 yards through the air and 59 on the ground in the first 15 minutes. The Mountaineers finished with 569 total yards, 448 of them through the skies.
Alston opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run on the Mountaineers’ first possession, and Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bailey — from 9 and 3 yards away — as WVU quickly flexed its biceps. Bailey finished with 180 yards receiving on 14 catches.
“There’s a lot of familiarity out there,” said Smith, admitting that he would have probably still found Bailey, who finished with 173 yards receiving on a school-record 13 catches, if the FedEx Field lights had been turned off. “I’m feeling really confident out there. We’re getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers at the right times.”
Perhaps even more pleasing to Mountaineer fans, who saw their team give up over 500 yards to Marshall, was the play of the defense. JMU’s only first down of the opening frame came on the very first play. The Dukes ended the first half with only six first downs and were unable to cross midfield until a Corey Smith punt — his first of the game — traveled just 24 yards and gave JMU the ball on the WVU 43-yard line.
“They’re growing,” said defensive coordinator Joe DeForest of the performance of his unit. “I’d like more turnovers out of this group, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They’re doing what we ask them to do, but I still think we missed too many tackles.
“If you take away the fourth quarter, with some of our second team guys out there, we were really good on third downs.”
It was that drive that ended in the Dukes’ only points of the first half, a 33-yard field goal off the leg of Cameron Starke, a WVU transfer. That score followed a 4-yard Smith touchdown pass to freshman Dante Campbell, the only Mountaineer touchdown of the second quarter, and WVU took a 28-3 lead into the halftime locker room.
JMU’s only touchdown of the game came with less than a minute to play during a battle of backups. Jauan Latney broke tackles and found the end zone from 20 yards away for the final 30-point margin.
The Dukes finished with 300 yards of offense, with quarterback Justin Thorpe the main producer. The senior threw for 71 yards and rushed for 44 more.
“We just had a lot of execution errors,” said JMU head coach Mickey Matthews. “We were behind the sticks a lot in the first half.
“My hat goes off to (WVU). They’re good, and they’re worthy of their ranking.”
WVU will host Maryland (2-1) Saturday at Mountaineer Field. The ACC Terrapins lost to Big East member Connecticut Saturday. The matchup with the longtime border rival will be WVU’s final nonconference game before playing its inaugural Big 12 matchup against Baylor on Sept. 29.
JMU will head back to FCS play, playing at Rhode Island on Saturday.
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No. 9 WEST VIRGINIA 42, JAMES MADISON 12
JMU 0 3 2 7 — 12
WVU 21 7 7 7 — 42
WVU: Alston 2 run (Bitancurt kick), 10:16.
WVU: Bailey 9 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 6:29.
WVU: Bailey 3 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 1:38.
WVU: Campbell 4 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 10:15.
JMU: FG Starke 33, 1:02.
JMU: Marlowe Safety, 9:33.
WVU: Bailey 30 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 4:37.
WVU: Austin 7 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 14:56.
JMU: Latney 20 run (Starke kick), :49.
A — 45,511.
First downs 15 28
Rushes-yards 49-188 26-121
Passing 112 448
Comp-Att-Int 10-23-1 38-48-0
Return Yards 0 0
Punts-Avg. 7-40.3 1-24.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-41 3-25
Time of Possession 35:31 24:29
RUSHING — JMU: Anderson 17-75, Thorpe 14-44, Latney 3-24, Brodie 8-24, Birdsong 4-13, Simmons 3-8. WVU: Alston 14-62, Buie 7-31, G. Smith 2-18, Austin 1-14, Team 2-(minus 4).
PASSING — JMU: Thorpe 6-13-1-71, Birdsong 4-10-0-41. WVU: G. Smith 34-39-0-411, Millard 4-9-0-37.
RECEIVING — JMU: Woodyard 3-24, Dixon 3-19, Barlow 2-46, Brodie 1-14, Hart 1-9. WVU: Bailey 13-173, Austin 11-113, Buie 5-90, McCartney 3-19, Woods 2-27, Arlia 1-14, Myers 1-6, Campbell 1-4, Thompson 1-2.