By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
Was ninth-ranked West Virginia (3-0) looking ahead Saturday at its first Big 12 game a week hence against Baylor?
Coach Dana Holgorsen said the Mountaineers talked about Maryland being “a quality opponent” that was getting better and better.
Nonetheless, the Mountaineers continually struggled offensively in beating Maryland, a 28-point underdog, by only 31-21 before a crowd of 58,504 at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The WVU offense, virtually unstoppable in the first two non-conference games, managed just a 19-18 edge in first downs and 363 yards to 351 in total offense.
The Mountaineers had to punt just twice — once each against Marshall and James Madison — but seven times against Maryland (2-2). It wasn’t pretty.
West Virginia’s lack of an effective rushing attack really showed up. It netted a mere 25 yards on as many carries. The Terps didn’t do much better (47 yards, 35 attempts).
Quarterback Geno Smith, pressured all afternoon heavily with some blitzing, didn’t have as good a game either. He completed 30 of 43 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. That jolted his 88.0 percent accuracy.
Tavon Austin obviously was the star of the contest. He caught 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
His scores covered 44, 34 and 24 yards.
“This was by far his best game,” Holgorsen said. “He played the best and did a great job.”
Linebacker Doug Rigg put WVU on the scoreboard first by recovering a fumble and returning it 51 yards for a TD. Tyler Bitancurt accounted for the other seven points on a 37-yard field goal and four extra points.
WVU’s offense did not commit a turnover, and that, coupled with three that the defense got, weighed heavily in the game’s outcome.
Holgorsen gave Maryland credit for using a stack defense which dogged the Mountaineers repeatedly.
He added, “Our defense won this game for us. But the offense did take care of the ball again.”
Holgorsen said the team has “a lot of stuff” which needs correcting, and that it will undergo work when the squad reassembles for practice Sunday.
He mentioned that “spotty tackling” was something that needs to improve. “They (Maryland) got way too many yards after catching the ball,” he said.
“One thing you have to do when you face adversity is fight through it, and we did that. Otherwise, we’d be sitting here with a loss.”