MORGANTOWN -- Receiver Stedman Bailey extended his school record with a fourth-straight game with more than 100 yards receiving and his 84-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter Saturday put No. 16 West Virginia in control for good as the Mountaineers beat Connecticut, 43-16.Four days after Coach Dana Holgorsen criticized the attendance and atmosphere, a crowd of 56,179 watched the Mountaineers win their Big East Conference opener for the fourth straight season."It just seemed like everything was so hard out there," Holgorsen said. "You can look at the final score, but it just seemed harder than that."The Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0) scored touchdowns on back-to-back plays and then added a safety and another touchdown in the third quarter to take a 33-9 lead after being ahead just 10-9 at halftime. It was WVU's third three-touchdown quarter of the season. That happened just five times the previous three seasons.The Huskies (2-4, 0-1), who had leads in the fourth quarter of all three of their losses, missed a field goal and wiped out an interception with a defensive penalty in the first half and then turned the ball over inside WVU's 10-yard line early in the second half.
WVU punted to start the second half and UConn moved to the WVU 13, but quarterback Johnny McEntee couldn't figure out how to slide on a 3-yard run and was hit by cornerback Pat Miller. The ball popped into the air and linebacker Jewone Snow recovered it at the 5 and returned it 80 yards to the UConn 12.Geno Smith threw the first of his four touchdowns on the next play.The Huskies punted and WVU took over at its 16. Smith threw a short pass to Bailey and safety Ty-meer Brown fell as Bailey pulled away for the fifth-longest receiving touchdown in school history.
Snow got his points on the next possession when he and defensive end Bruce Irvin sacked McEntee in the end zone. Six plays after the free kick, Smith threw a 22-yard pass to Brad Starks in the corner of the end zone for another touchdown.WVU's third-quarter scoring happened in 7:45 of game clock.Smith completed 27 of 45 passes for 450 yards. He has two of the five 400-yard passing games in school history. Both have come in the past three games. Smith is on pace for school records with 4,318 yards and 32 touchdowns this season.
"He's capable of being as good a quarterback as there is in college football," Holgorsen said. "I'm not saying he is right now, but he's capable of it if he keeps improving and improving over the course of this year and next year."Dustin Garrison, who set the school's freshman rushing record with 291 yards last week, finished with 80 and a touchdown. Bailey caught seven passes for 178 yards and later added a 27-yard touchdown reception. Ivan McCartney caught six passes for 131 yards.The Mountaineers finished with 541 yards of offense.WVU's defense allowed 275 yards of offense and just 97 after halftime. It's the third time this season an opponent hasn't scored an offensive touchdown. UConn scored its only touchdown on Brown's 48-yard interception return on backup quarterback Paul Millard's first pass in the fourth quarter."That's a dominant performance by the defense stopping the run, getting after the passer and creating turnovers," Holgorsen said.The Mountaineers led 10-9 at the half when UConn made its third field goal as time expired. WVU set that up with a failed quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Huskies 41-yard line. Smith lost a yard with 55 seconds to go in the half and UConn moved to the WVU 5 in seven plays.Dave Teggart hit from 22 yards for his third straight successful attempt after striking the left upright and the crossbar on a miss from 42 yards on the game's opening drive. He recovered to make a 40- and 53-yard attempt.
The 53-yard kick is the longest in the Big East this season and tied former Syracuse and Morgantown High kicker Patrick Shadle for the longest by an opponent in Mountaineer Field history.Tyler Bitancurt opened the scoring with a 31-yard field goal following Teggart's miss, but the Mountaineers lost McCartney's fumble on one possession and then punted on three straight. Garrison scored the only touchdown of the half on a 14-yard run following a holding penalty. Garrison faked Brown to the ground in the open field on that score, too.The Huskies helped out on that drive and the Mountaineers needed it. On second-and-10, Smith stepped forward from the shotgun to make a change at the line of scrimmage, but center Joe Madsen snapped the ball. Smith recovered and then WVU had to call two timeouts before running a play on third down.Smith tried to fit a pass between defenders to McCartney, but had it intercepted. Safety Byron Jones, who had the interception, was called for defensive holding and gave the Mountaineers a first down."When you've been having success on offense, you want to score every time you've got it, but that's not reality," Holgorsen said. "I think everyone is still happy with 43 points."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.