By Cam Huffman
While finding areas for improvement may be a difficult task for West Virginia’s offensive coaches after scoring 10 touchdowns and racking up more than 800 yards in Saturday’s 70-63 win over Baylor, there will be no shortage of instructional points for the Mountaineer defensive staff.
WVU, which climbed to No. 8 this week in the Associated Press poll and stayed at No. 7 in the USA Today coaches poll, gave up 700 yards and 63 points, and first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was anything but thrilled in the moments following the game.
“Welcome to the Big 12,” said the former Oklahoma State assistant, shaking his head in frustration. “We had guys in position to make plays and didn’t make them. Baylor executed, and we didn’t on defense. I did a poor job of preparing them and a poor job of calling the game. Ultimately, it falls on me.”
No matter where the blame falls — safety Darwin Cook wouldn’t let his coach put it on his own shoulders, instead saying that players had to make the plays when the coaches put them in the right spots — it’s clear that something has to change if WVU is going to achieve the goals it has for 2012.
“We have the athletes,” said Cook. “We have the speed to play with anybody in the country. We just have to make the plays. We don’t like giving up points like that, at all. We just have to get better.”
So what exactly went wrong? WVU created a turnover with an interception on the second play of the game, sacked Baylor quarterback Nick Florence three times and even caused a Baylor fumble, although the Bears got it back. But on third downs, the Mountaineers allowed the visitors from Texas to convert 11 of 16 attempts, as well as the one fourth down they tried to convert.
“That’s our job, to get off the field,” said DeForest, also pointing out that his unit gave up too many big plays, including three touchdown passes of at least 35 yards. “We have to look at the film, make some personnel changes, make better calls and do a better job of attacking the ball when it’s in the air. They ran the same things we practiced. They never really got us out of position. We just didn’t make the plays. They executed better than we did. That’s the bottom line.
“We played good defense at times, and then we’d give it up,” he continued. “What do you do? You just have to keep coaching, keep teaching and mix it up.”
The good news for DeForest, co-coordinator Keith Patterson and the defense is that despite a historically poor performance — Baylor put up more yardage than any visitor in the 32-year history of Mountaineer Field — WVU escaped without a loss, thanks to the Mountaineer offense.
“We won the game,” said DeForest. “(Baylor) had won nine straight games. That’s the No. 1 offense in the country. Am I happy about it? Absolutely not. But we won. We’re 4-0. They’re not.
“It’s hard to take as a defensive coach, but maybe this will make us better. We’re going to make some corrections. It’s a work in progress. We need to get better, obviously, or it’s going to be a long year.”
Until then, the WVU offense is prepared to pick up the slack.
“The defense gave up some points and yards, but who cares? We won the game. I don’t want those guys to hang their head,” said Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith. “It’s a team game. Whatever it takes to get a victory is what we’ll do. I’m pretty sure we’ll need those guys coming up pretty soon.”
“They had one bad day,” wide receiver Tavon Austin agreed. “It was one game, and they’re going to play a bunch. Hopefully they’ll come back next week.”
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Just how rare was Smith’s 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance Saturday and what he’s done through West Virginia’s 4-0 start to the 2012 season? The 2011 NCAA statistics provide a little perspective
Last season, Army threw for 605 yards — in 12 games. That’s 51 yards fewer than Smith racked up in four quarters. His eight touchdown passes topped the 2011 season total for two teams — Army (5) and New Mexico (7) — and tied Florida Atlantic. It was just one behind SEC school Mississippi.
Smith’s season totals are even more astonishing. In four games — two of which he only played three quarters — Smith has thrown for 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns. The yardage tops the 2011 season totals for Florida Atlantic, Ohio State, Temple, Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, UNLV, Navy and Army, and the touchdown passes put him above the 2011 season totals of all but 61 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision squads.
Smith again earned national recognition for his performance. For the second time this season, the senior from Miami’s Miramar High School was named the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week.
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Lost in the sea of numbers produced by Austin — 14 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns — and Stedman Bailey — 13 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns — Saturday was a performance from J.D. Woods that normally would have been enough to earn player of the game honors. The senior wide receiver from Naples, Fla., had just 25 catches for 272 yards in his Mountaineer career coming into 2012, but on Saturday alone he hauled in 13 Smith passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The biggest reception, though, wasn’t the one in the end zone, but instead a one-handed grab on WVU’s final drive that kept the chains moving and the ball out of Baylor’s hands. The Bears never got an opportunity at a game-tying drive.
“I’m proud of J.D,” said Holgorsen. “The light came on, and he’s doing everything right. He’s practicing hard, doing a good job in the classroom, doing a good job in the weight room and making plays on the field. We’re getting a good senior year out of him.”
What caused the turnaround for a player who spent most of his time in Holgorsen’s doghouse in 2011 and was in danger of not being academically eligible before a strong summer? Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said it was simply a matter of timing.
“It’s his senior year,” said Dawson. “It would be like a doctor telling you that you had one month to live. You’d probably live pretty good in that month. This is his last chance, and he’s making the most of it.”