The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 30, 2012

WELCOME TO THE BIG 12!

Mountaineers light up the scoreboard with 70-63 win over Baylor

MORGANTOWN — The couches were safe Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, but the record books were set on fire.

No. 9 West Virginia (4-0) set a decade’s worth of team and individual high marks in its first Big 12 football game, as a crowd of 60,012 watched quarterback Geno Smith add to his Heisman Trophy resume with a 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance in a 70-63 win over No. 25 Baylor (3-1), which left with its first loss of the year, despite its own offensive explosion.

The single-game WVU record book might need to be replaced by the boxscore from Saturday’s game.

— The 133 combined points were a school record.

— The 70 combined first-half points broke the record of 69 from the 2012 Orange Bowl against Clemson, also setting a new home and stadium record.

— The 180 combined offensive plays were a Milan Puskar Stadium record.

— Tyler Bitancurt’s 10 extra points were a school record.

— WVU’s 807 offensive yards and the combined 1,507 yards (Baylor ended with 700) were a stadium record.

— Smith’s 14 consecutive completions were a school record.

— Smith’s eight touchdown passes were a school record.

— Smith’s 88 percent completion percentage is the nation’s best completion percentage since 2000 with a minimum of 50 passes.

— Smith’s passing yards and 45 completions (on 51 attempts) were school records.

Rest your eyes for a second. There’s more.

— The 74 combined pass completions were stadium records.

— Stedman Bailey set the WVU career record for receiving touchdowns at 26, two ahead of Tavon Austin, who moved to 24.

— Bailey’s 303 receiving yards set a WVU school record, and Austin’s 215 came in at No. 2.

— Austin broke his own single-game record with 14 catches.

— Austin is now WVU’s career receiving yards leader with 2,684 yards.

To say that WVU’s welcome to its new conference was a warm one would be like saying Smith is a pretty fair quarterback.

“You witnessed the same thing I did,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen after the game, not sure exactly how to explain what the Mountaineer fans and an FX television audience witnessed. “I told everybody it was going to be different.”

Smith has made a habit of downplaying his place among the nation’s top players, and so has Holgorsen, instead choosing to focus on possible areas of improvement. That wasn’t a realistic approach after Smith’s near-perfect play on Saturday. He threw deep balls perfectly into the hands of his receivers — including touchdown passes of 47, 45, 42, 87 and 39 yards — threaded the needle on slants and screens, continually made the right reads, found receivers in front of the chains and even scrambled for a couple of first downs in critical situations.

“He was 45 of 51 for 656 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions,” said Holgorsen. “Can you please tell me how you can improve on that?”

Smith spread the love, helping Bailey, his high school teammate, and Austin to career days, while also completing 13 passes for 114 yards to senior J.D. Woods, the biggest a one-handed grab late in the fourth quarter that enabled WVU to run out the clock with a 7-point lead.

“We had people saying we were awful because we only scored 31 points on Maryland,” said Smith. “But every game was different. This game was about making plays on offense, and I think we did a great job of overcoming adversity.

“We played a really tough Baylor team that had won nine in a row, and they did a great job of putting pressure on us.”

The Mountaineers needed every one of those completions to hold off Baylor and the country’s No. 1 offense, which found its own spot in the record books, breaking the marks for WVU opponent points and total yardage.

Nick Florence, the replacement for 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, threw for 581 yards and five touchdowns, numbers that would have earned him a featured spot on SportsCenter, if not for the play of the quarterback on the other side. He had three receivers — Terrance Williams (314), a Baylor school record, Tevin Reese (120) and Lanear Sampson (109) — past the century mark in receiving, and the Bears converted 11 of 16 third-down attempts, fighting back from a 56-35 third-quarter deficit to make things interesting at the end.

“We fought hard, but we didn’t respond well enough to win the game,” said Baylor head coach Art Briles. “I thought Nick Florence had a great game. I thought he really handled himself well. He stayed in control of his emotions very well.

“I thought Geno was exceptional, which he has been for the past few years. Today, he certainly earned his cause for postseason awards.”

While there was cause for celebration on offense — where WVU mixed in just enough run, 151 yards, including 82 from Andrew Buie, to keep Baylor honest — there are some question marks on defense heading into next Saturday’s showdown at Texas, the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 road trip.

Aside from a first-quarter interception, on a ball that tipped off the hands of a Bears receiver, and a sack, there weren’t too many positive sides on that side of the ball. Baylor scored on 6 of 7 trips to the red zone — an Aaron Jones missed field goal from 33 yards away the only setback —and allowed the Bears 20 yards per completion.

“We had guys in position to make plays but didn’t make plays,” said WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “They ran the same plays we practiced, and we were always in position. But we have to do better if we want to win in this league.”

Baylor will be back home next week, facing the Big 12’s other new squad, TCU.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com

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