The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

December 5, 2010

WVU claims share of Big East

Smith throws for a career-high 352 yards in WVU’s 35-14 win

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said nothing when he came out of the Mountaineers’ lockerroom and stood at the podium.

Then, as if rolling down a banner, Stewart unveiled a shirt.

It read, “West Virginia, 2010 Big East Champions.”

“I couldn’t resist doing that,” Stewart said.

Ryan Clarke overcame an early fumble with three touchdowns, Tavon Austin added two, one on a 46-yard run, and Geno Smith established a new career-high with 352 yards passing as WVU beat Rutgers 35-14 Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The win guaranteed the Mountaineers at least a share of the Big East title, depending on the outcome of the Connecticut-South Florida game Saturday night. They will also share part of the title with Pitt, which beat Cincinnati Saturday.

The Mountaineers were in line to receive a BCS bowl berth with a UConn loss. The Fiesta and Orange bowls had representatives at Saturday’s game.

“I thought the Mountaineers played with a lot of spirit and very physical,” Stewart said. “A win is a win and it was a good win. I think our speed got to them.”

They saw West Virginia shake off three fumbles to put away Rutgers with three second-half touchdowns in front of 48,386 fans on a frigid but clear afternoon.

“I am not pleased with the fumbles,” Stewart said. “I hate turnovers; it just kills your football team. But we had enough resolve to come back.”

Up 14-7 at the half, WVU held Rutgers on its initial possession of the second half. WVU then drove 91 yards to re-establish a two-touchdown lead.

Clarke scored his eighth touchdown of the season — and second of the game — on a 1-yard run, but the big play of the drive was a 43-yard hookup between Smith and Austin. Smith went 4-for-4 for 72 yards on the drive.

He finished the afternoon 23-of-28 for 352 and a touchdown.

Early in the fourth quarter, Austin, a former high school running back, lined up in the backfield and took a handoff from Smith, who, for a majority of the day, kept the ball in that situation and went untouched 46 yards for the score.

“I always feel like a running back, even when I catch the ball, I try to go back to my running back days,” Austin said. “I give the credit all to the linemen. I just finished my part.”

Clarke added a third touchdown later in the fourth.

“We put together drives and it’s my job to finish it off, so that’s what I’ve got to do,” Clarke said. “I try to make the best of my opportunities and help the team win.”

“We missed big plays because of missed assignments,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “I put that on coaching. We have to get our players to do what they are capable of doing and the things we got beat on today, we are more than capable of doing.”

Fumbles halted several potential Mountaineer drives in the first half.

The Mountaineers drove to the Rutgers 8-yard line on their first possession of the game, but Clarke fumbled and Rutgers’ Manny Abreau recovered.

“I just tried to put it out of my mind and move on,” Clarke said. “It’s part of football. You have to move on and focus on what’s ahead.”

The Mountaineers’ defense responded and WVU atoned for the turnover, going 48 yards on five plays, Smith connecting with Austin on a well-blocked screen pass that went 19 yards for a touchdown. It was Austin’s eighth TD of the season.

“I had two good blocks from Jock Sanders and J.D. Wood,” said Austin, who had six catches for 121 yards and was the leading rusher with his 46-yard run. “J.D. chopped his man and I made one move and ran it to the outside.”

After a second fumble stalled another drive deep in Rutgers territory, senior J.T. Thomas came up with a huge play, recovering what seemed to be an invisible ball that laid on the turf untouched just outside a pile, until Thomas recovered it outside the scrum and returned it to the Scarlet Knights’ nine.

“I guess nobody saw it but me,” Thomas said. “I actually reached through two defenders to pick the ball up. When I was running I was actually surprised they were chasing me. I kind of had a little Colorado flashback (when he fumbled away a fumble he had recovered). I wrapped two hands around the ball and went down.”

On the first play of the second quarter, on third-and-goal at the one, Clarke burst over the goal line to make it 14-0 WVU. Clarke, atoning for the earlier fumble, bounced off the pile and stumbled into the end zone.

A third turnover by Noel Devine was reviewed and he was correctly ruled down at the Mountaineers’ 34 on the play. But that led to a punt and Rutgers marched 79 yards, the final 18 on a pass from Chris Dodd to Jordan Thomas that made it 14-7 with 2:47 left in the half.

West Virginia’s Tyler Bitancurt had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked with 20.7 seconds left in the half.

Bruce Irvin added a pair of sacks to give him 12 for the season after going sackless in the first two games. Julian Miller had three and Scooter Berry one for WVU.

The Mountaineers had 523 yards of total offense compared to 203 for Rutgers (4-8, 1-6).

Rutgers has lost 16 straight to West Virginia.

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