MORGANTOWN - After West Virginia's 70-63 victory over Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium, Mountaineer running back Dustin Garrison sat with a smile on his face."I've never been in anything like that," Garrison said. "I've seen games like that, but I've never been in one like that."I had to ask. You've seen games like that?In 32 years of covering college football, I've only seen one other of the same ilk: Marshall's 64-61 double overtime win over East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl.
In sum, Saturday's game was spectacular. In every sense of the word.There were records galore. It was a shootout until Garrison broke free for a 17-yard run late. And it featured one very special performance by WVU quarterback Geno Smith. He put forth a day no other Mountaineer might ever equal again: 45-of-51 passing for 656 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.He had the nation absolutely buzzing. LeBron James tweeted that Smith is "RIDICULOUS." Writer-TV personality Skip Bayless chimed in that Smith doesn't put up video game numbers. "Video game numbers put up Geno Smith numbers," said he.Heisman Trophy front-runner? Hmm. The man is 141 for 169 in four victories for 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns with no interceptions. He's hitting 83.4 percent of his passes, averaging 42.25 throws a game. I'm thinkin' yes."His completion rate is 80 or 90 percent," said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "He's getting us in the right place."On Saturday, both offenses were in the right place. It was that place they call the zone. And it made for terrific theater. Baylor and quarterback Nick Florence were almost as impressive in the Mountaineers' Big 12 opener.
Did you forget it was WVU's debut? It's easy to do after that shootout. It was WVU's inaugural game in the league. It was Homecoming. The stadium was striped. Trace Adkins sang the national anthem. And . . .And it all paled in comparison to the game itself. The only thing missing on a beautiful fall day was defense."Both offenses played well," Holgorsen said. "To say the defenses didn't play very well is an understatement. We have to keep improving on what we're doing. We have eight more conference games. We have to get better."On defense, that is. If this WVU team has any shot whatsoever of winning a Big 12 title, it must get better on defense. Heck, if it has any shot of winning next week's game at Texas, it must get better on defense.Mountaineer defensive coordinator Joe DeForest took the performance to heart, pointing out that Baylor "did exactly what we thought."
"They ran four routes and four runs. We knew, yet didn't stop them."
He partially blamed the defensive coaching staff. But one has to seriously wonder how any defense can stop offenses like that of WVU or Baylor. Just check the tape and see how wide the offenses played."It's a way of life versus those offenses," DeForest said. "You just have to make one more play. It's not acceptable, but that's the way it is."Holgorsen said he's warned WVU fans."It's a very up-tempo league," he said. "We understand it's going to be a very up-tempo league. We have to get better defensively at playing at a high-tempo level."Indeed. West Virginia's offense will need help along the way. The secondary was absolutely torched on Saturday - at home - to the tune of 581 yards. Unless there's marked improvement, WVU fans can put any national championship hopes on a shelf.
The Mountaineers, though, might have the best offense in the land. They, at least, might have the best passing game.They certainly have the most productive player in Smith."Amazing," said WVU back Andrew Buie of his quarterback. "That's the only way to cap it: amazing."One must also remember that, for the second straight game, Smith's No. 1 tailback, Shawne Alston, sat. Buie and Garrison were OK. But the power, the threat, of Alston was once again missing.Yet WVU's offense rolled like a bullet train, and the Mountaineers and Bears put on quite a show. If you want another game to compare it to, well, there was Baylor's Alamo Bowl last season in which it defeated Washington by 67-56. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, however, had but one touchdown pass and one TD run.Smith was a star on Saturday. Yes, WVU's defense was nonexistent. But the home team won in exciting fashion in its Big 12 opener. It created a nationwide buzz. The passing game was lightning and Puskar Stadium was the bottle."It was a great moment for West Virginia," Holgorsen said. "We took advantage of it."Like almost nothing we've seen.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.