By Dave Morrison
With the offense stuck on pause, No. 16 West Virginia turned to a one-time running back to get things rolling again.
Only it wasn’t on offense where the jump-start occurred.
It was on defense.
With the Mountaineers holding on to a precarious 10-9 lead early in the third quarter, Juwon Snow scooped a Johnny McEntee fumble out of the air at the WVU 5 and rambled 83 yards to the Connecticut 12.
Two plays later WVU quarterback Geno Smith found Tavon Austin cutting across the end zone and the rout was on.
By the time the second half smoke cleared, WVU (5-1, 1-0 Big East) had a 43-16 win in the conference opener for both schools.
“I saw the hit, and I saw the ball go up and I just ran to it and caught it,” said Snow, a former high school running back. “I just went on instinct. Just try to get to the end zone and run as hard as I can.”
Teammate Pat Miller, who caused the fumble, didn’t know what happened.
“(McEntee) was spinning and I just caught him on the back side and the ball popped up in the air,” Miller said. “All I saw was West Virginia players running so I knew we got the ball. I didn’t know who had the ball until later on down the field.
“When I saw it was Snow, I was like, ‘Aw man, we got big Snow with the ball.’ I was glad it was him, though.”
It certainly was a big day for the freshman linebacker, who had seven tackles, a half-sack, with Bruce Irvin, on a safety later in the third quarter and a half tackle-for-a-loss.
But that play was the key.
“It was a game-changer,” said Snow, who was making his second career start at middle linebacker. “The momentum completely shifted over to our side. It was a big play.”
“We had a bad miscue,” Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Johnny tucked the ball in and didn’t have anyone to throw it to so he ran it, and instead of going down he stayed up and he got hit and the ball came out. It was a big play.”
After that, there were plenty of big plays, this time from the offense.
After the Smith-to-Austin hookup, Smith found Stedman Bailey, who put a big-time move on a Huskies’ defender and raced 84 yards for a touchdown.
“The one that took the wind out of our sails was that 84-yard one,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “After that, we never could regain field position.”
After the safety, Smith threw touchdown strikes to Brad Starks (22 yards) and Bailey again (27 yards) around a Tyler Bitancurt field goal to complete the rout.
WVU scored 33 points in a 13:53 span, and 23 in the final 7:44 of the third quarter, to complete the rout.
Smith finished the afternoon completing 27 of 45 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns. The total is the second highest of his career and in school history.
Bailey had seven catches for 178 yards and two scores, and Austin caught seven for 74. Ivan McCartney had six for 131 yards.
But the defense also came up big.
West Virginia limited Connecticut to just 97 yards of total offense in the second half and didn’t allow a touchdown in the game.
The Huskies’ only touchdown came when Ty-Meer Brown intercepted backup quarterback Paul Millard and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
“The best it’s been all year,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The defense played fantastic. That was a heck of a second half. That was a dominating performance from our defense. The run defense got after the passer and created turnovers and losses.”
WVU came into the game with just three sacks all season. It had five Saturday.
Freshman running back Dustin Garrison followed up his 291-yard performance with 80 yards on 18 carries, including a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that helped WVU gain a 10-9 lead at the half.
For Holgorsen, it was a success for his team, heading into an offweek before traveling to Syracuse on Friday, Oct. 21. Four of WVU’s final six games are on the road.
“You can’t win a championship unless you have three sides of the equation,” Holgorsen said. “The thing I like about this team right now is all three sides of the ball understand their jobs.”
WVU may also have found a punter. Parkersburg South grad Mike Molinari averaged 43 yards on five kicks and two were inside the five, helping set up the Mountaineers’ safety and keeping the field position in WVU’s favor.
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No. 16 WEST VIRGINIA 43, UCONN 16
UConn 3 6 0 7 — 16
WVU 3 7 23 10 — 43
WVU—FG Bitancurt 31, 7:43.
Conn—FG Teggart 40, 3:23.
Conn—FG Teggart 53, 14:53.
WVU—Garrison 14 run (Bitancurt kick), 2:44.
Conn—FG Teggart 22, :00.
WVU—Austin 12 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 7:44.
WVU—Bailey 84 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 5:49.
WVU—Starks 22 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), :09.
WVU—FG Bitancurt 33, 10:52.
WVU—Bailey 27 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 8:51.
Conn—T.Brown 48 interception return (Teggart kick), 7:54.
First downs 16 23
Rushes-yards 35-82 29-72
Passing 193 469
Comp-Att-Int 21-37-0 28-48-1
Return Yards 56 51
Punts-Avg. 9-44.1 5-43.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 3-1
Penalties-Yards 7-51 8-80
Time of Possession 32:33 27:27
RUSHING—UConn, McCombs 20-73, McEntee 11-13, McCummings 1-4, K.Moore 1-(minus 1), Jean-Louis 2-(minus 7). West Virginia, Garrison 18-80, Buie 2-11, Alston 2-8, Team 2-(minus 3), Austin 1-(minus 5), G.Smith 4-(minus 19).
PASSING—UConn, McEntee 21-37-0-193. West Virginia, G.Smith 27-45-0-450, Millard 1-3-1-19.
RECEIVING—UConn, Griffin 5-57, I.Moore 4-41, K.Moore 3-36, Hinkley 3-28, N.Williams 2-21, Frank 2-4, T.Jones 1-4, McCombs 1-2. West Virginia, Bailey 7-178, Austin 7-74, McCartney 6-131, Urban 2-25, De.Brown 2-13, Starks 1-22, Nehlen 1-21, Garrison 1-4, Milhouse 1-1.