Superlative Start

The first 50 minutes of its win against Marshall last week raised plenty of questions about the West Virginia football team. In the first half of their game against Maryland on Saturday, the No. 21 Mountaineers made a statement.

WVU quarterback Geno Smith completed his first 10 passes and led his team to touchdowns on three of its first four possessions, while the squad's defense registered eight sacks in a 31-17 win at Milan Puskar Stadium.

It was a dominant effort all-around in the early stages, but Smith and receiver Tavon Austin stole the show. The true sophomores combined for seven hook-ups, gaining 106 yards and scoring two first quarter touchdowns.

Smith found high school teammate and Stedman Bailey for a 26-yard score early in the second period and again for a 5-yard touchdown on his team's first possession of the third quarter to make it 28-0. The Terps rallied, but never drew within fewer than 11 points.

"We did not hit the snooze button," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. "The alarms were set early."

Smith shredded the Maryland defense in the opening stages. He had 226 of his 268 yards passing by the time the teams went to the locker room at halftime. Of his four incompletions in the first two quarters, two were the result of smart decisions to intentionally throw the ball away.

The team's defense was equally impressive. It held the Terrapins to 63 to total yards of offense at halftime. At game's end, the visitors were held to negative-10 yards rushing on 27 carries -- a count that was aided by the Mountaineers' eight sacks of Maryland quarterbacks Jamarr Robinson and Danny O'Brien.

"West Virginia just played better than we did," said Terps coach Ralph Friedgen. "They are a good football team. They played a lot better than us in the first half, and that's my fault."

But the Terrapins did put together a rally, as Robinson gained 140 of his team's 217 total yards of offense on two throws to receiver Torrey Smith. Those plays went for touchdowns of 60 and 80 yards, respectively, and both came with sophomore cornerback Pat Miller (who started in place of the suspended Brandon Hogan) in coverage.

"[Those] couple of big passes really disappointed me," Stewart said. "We need to work hard on that."

Suddenly, the score was 28-14 with 4:07 left in the third quarter. A three-and-out from the Mountaineer offense, combined with a poor punt of only 17 yards from Gregg Pugnetti, gave Maryland the ball inside WVU territory with plenty of momentum.

But the West Virginia defenders rose to the challenge, stopping the visitors on a fourth-and-3 play when defensive lineman Scooter Berry got one of his two sacks of Robinson.

That gave the Mountaineer offense the ball with a chance to put the game out of reach. But on the second play of the possession, a Jock Sanders throw on a trick play was intercepted and returned 53 yards to the WVU 40-yard line.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
"I said I wanted to throw the double pass," Stewart said. "I wish now Jock would have held on to it. He was trying to make the play and I can't fault him for that.

"That was a bad call on my part."

The damage from that "bad call" was limited by the team's defense, as Maryland was unable to get into the end zone. Rush end Bruce Irvin got one of his three sacks on a third-and-7 from the West Virginia 12, and a 35-yard Travis Baltz field goal made it 28-17.

That would be the end of the rally, as the Mountaineer offense went on a clock-killing 16-play, 76-yard drive that featured eight consecutive carries by fullback Ryan Clarke. Tyler Bitancurt capped the trip with a 23-yard field goal to make it 31-17.

WVU had taken almost nine minutes off the clock with that possession, and Maryland had to call for deep passes with only 2:58 left. Berry and Irvin took advantage, getting sacks on second and third downs to end any thoughts of a late comeback.

"They could have very easily quit and they didn't do that," Friedgen said of his players. "They fought back."

While his team's start was impressive and his defense did enough to avoid a collapse of epic proportions, Stewart was not pleased with the way the latter stages played out.

"I don't think we closed the door," said the third-year head coach. "You don't let them get back in."

Geno Smith was 19-of-29 passing for 268 yards and four touchdowns. Austin led all receivers with his seven grabs for 106 yards and two scores, while Sanders had six catches for another 86 yards. Bailey, a redshirt freshman, caught four passes for 60 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Noel Devine had a relatively quiet 131 yards on the ground, breaking his only big run on the fourth play of the game. That 50-yarder set up the first touchdown of the contest, but the senior averaged only 3.1 yards per carry on his other 26 attempts.

Robinson completed 13-of-24 passes for 227 yards and a pair of scores. He was sacked seven times, and second-team quarterback Danny O'Brien was drilled by Irvin for a sack on his only play of the game.

Running back Davin Meggett was his team's leading rusher with 30 yards on nine carries. Fellow tailback Da'Rel Scott managed only six yards on four carries.

The Mountaineers moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2007 with the win, but that mark will be tested when the squad travels this week to No. 15 LSU for a Saturday night contest in Death Valley.

"Game three is in the books," Stewart said. "We'll get ready for game four and go from there."

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