West Virginia's Tavon Austin celebrates after his TD catch in the third quarter.
MORGANTOWN - So the overriding question in regard to West Virginia's 55-12 smackdown of Norfolk State Saturday afternoon was an easy one, right?It had nothing to do with Geno Smith's 371 passing yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. It had little to do with the Mountaineers' 533 total yards or the fact that by game's end a true freshman was tossing touchdown passes or that Norfolk State had punted seven times and gained just two first downs in its last seven possessions.No, all of that was expected. But it was expected right from the start.Which begs the question: What was up with that first half?
"We're a young football team. We're inexperienced,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I don't know if we're trying too hard, but we didn't look very good in the first half. I don't know if that's a coaching error as far as not having these guys ready on a short week or whatever. But that's a bunch of excuses. I'm proud of the way we came out in the second half and responded to what we said to them at halftime.''Which was?"Do you really want me to repeat it?'' Holgorsen asked.No, it's probably better left unsaid.Still as well as West Virginia played in the second half - scoring six touchdowns and a field goal on seven possessions while holding Norfolk State to those two first downs on its seven tries - Holgorsen and the Mountaineers to a man realize that the same scenario can't be repeated in the next two weeks. On Saturday the Mountaineers play at Maryland and then a week later No. 2 LSU comes to Morgantown."We just have to come out faster. We came out dead in the first two quarters,'' said defensive end Bruce Irvin. "We can't come out dead these next two weeks. It's too important.''Chronicling No. 19 West Virginia's second rather bizarre win in as many weeks - following the weather-ravaged 34-13 win over Marshall - is truly like night and day. Because the final score was so lopsided - it was the first time WVU scored that much since a 66-21 rout of Connecticut in 2007, 42 games ago - it's best to start with the positive.On that end, Smith completed 20-of-34 passes, wasn't intercepted and tossed scoring passes of 18 yards to Devon Brown, 3 yards to Tavon Austin, 12 yards to Tyler Urban and 39 yards to Ivan McCartney. Combined with freshman Paul Millard's 30-yard scoring toss to Brad Starks, that's five TD passes - tied for the second-most in school history - and the two combined to throw for 431 yards. It's been 13 years since West Virginia threw for more (452 by Marc Bulger against Missouri in the 1998 Insight Bowl).More impressively, in the second half alone the two were a combined 17-of-22 for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Holgorsen swears they were running the same plays as the first half, but his receivers were running into defenders instead of around them and the middle of the field was wide open and not being attacked."We did a better job in the second half of just getting around the defenders and getting into the open field,'' said Brown, the Wake Forest transfer who had 109 yards on four receptions, including a 55-yarder that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. "It's just a matter of doing what we were supposed to do.''Ditto the WVU defense. In the first half the Mountaineers gave up 242 yards and Norfolk State had four scoring drives (although all were eventually stopped for field goals). In the second half, the Spartans gained 43 yards.
"The defense gave up way too many yards, but part of that is the offense's fault,'' Holgorsen said. "We put them on the field way too much.''By game's end, most of the fans in the smallish crowd of 51,911 had managed to forget the first half. That was when Norfolk State outgained WVU 179-19 at one point, 242-143 by halftime and scored field goals on four of seven possessions. Things would have been much worse for the Mountaineers had the Spartans been able to punch one or two of those into the end zone.But even with the lopsidedness of the first half, it still seemed only a matter of time, both to the fans and the players both."We didn't have our heads down,'' said McCartney, who caught four passes for 79 yards. "We didn't have a fear that we were going to lose the game or anything. We just had to play better.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org