Serving Notice

Sure, it was Towson. But West Virginia’s offensive display served notice that the once-flailing Mountaineers have found the savvy – and salvo – for what ails.

Fifty-four points, 606 yards, seven touchdowns. And the biggest blowout in 13 years in a much-needed 54-0 romp of a win that brought back fan and, perhaps, player confidence that this unit it built to compete at the Big 12 level. In the first half alone, West Virginia racked up 317 yards, 218 through the air, while converting a sizzling eight of 10 third downs. The Mountaineers were balanced, with 25 running plays and 27 passing and the ball spread to eight different receivers and five different rushers, quarterback Clint Trickett included. The signal caller connected on 24 of 27 passes over the first 30 minutes – including his last 11 and 15 of the last 16. It was, by far, the most thorough half in the last 21 games dating to then-No. 8 WVU’s win at No. 11 Texas in 2012.

And lest anyone find the temptation, and there is plenty, to note that it was merely an FCS opponent, West Virginia did many of the same things against Alabama. Trickett carved up the second-ranked Tide’s secondary, throwing for 365 yards – the 12th most in any game by a WVU quarterback in the last 10 years – on 29 of 45 passing and a touchdown for a 139.91 efficiency rating. Against Towson, Trickett’s rating was an off-the-charts 177.1 on 35 of 40 passing for 348 yards and two scores. His rating peaked at 183.3 late in the third quarter; the efficiency was so extreme that a six-yard completion to Thompson actually lowered it just before Trickett hit the wideout with a 19-yard scoring strike for a 38-0 lead on the way to WVU’s biggest win since an 80-7 victory over Rutgers in 2001.

“I have a semi-clue what I’m doing out there, whereas last year I had none,” Trickett said. “That’s the same for everyone. Like I said 1,000 times, everyone having a year of experience under their belt is going to help everyone. That includes me, that includes the wideouts, that includes the line. I think we look comfortable out there and we look efficient.”

Trickett’s 35 completions were second only to Geno Smith, who had games of 36, 36, 38 and 45 completions to set the top four marks in school history. Trickett, with his last completion, actually passed Oliver Luck, Marc Bulger and Smith, who all had 34 in three different decades of play. His football IQ, pocket presence, mastery of the offense and understanding of down, distance and situation are as good as any quarterback in recent memory, including Smith.

“I thought he was efficient the first game, and he was efficient this game,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said of Trickett. His communication is really good, his confidence is really good and he understands where to go with the ball.”

There was the exceptional supporting cast as well. Rushel Shell, he of fan favorite fame for both his transfer from Pitt and his play, further affirmed Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s statement that the prep All-American is a high quality back. Shell carried 14 times for 71 yards and his first career WVU touchdown, showcasing that bruising style mixed with excellent vision. The Mountaineer offensive line opened gargantuan holes and got solid push in the run game while, for a second straight week making Trickett the epitome of Ft. Knox.

Kevin White was himself, catching 10 passes for 101 yards, while Thompson added five catches for 52 yards in furthering shedding his spring game superstar reputation. And then, as a topper, West Virginia burned the redshirt of William Crest, opening a myriad of possibilities within the offense should the Mountaineers chose to exercise them in needed situations. Crest, who completed three of four passes, also rushed for a four-yard touchdown, and flashed some of the exceptional athleticism and promise that made him the most sought after regional quarterback prospect by the coaching staff.

The performance wasn’t perfect. The Mountaineers still had red zone struggles early, and actually stalled after a first and goal at the two on its second drive to settle for Josh Lambert’s 19-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead. The drive totaled 46 yards in eight plays, but the final three snaps – all power runs to Shell – gained a combined zero yards, and Shell fumbled after the whistle on his second attempt. The Mountaineers stalled again on the next possession when Trickett, after being sacked on first and 10 from the 20, misfired to White on third and seven. Lambert then hooked the 34-yarder, and Towson appeared to be in the game down just 10.

But a failed fake punt on fourth and five from their own 41-yard line opened the floodgates for the deluge, and West Virginia obliged by scoring on their final three possessions for the 31-0 whitewashing at the half. The Mountaineers hit again one their first series of the second half for a 38-0 lead, and the substitutions began to flow freely. It was refreshing, really, to watch a West Virginia team dismantle an inferior foe in exactly the manner required. It was a quick, methodical dissection of a proud program in a rebuilding year. Questions remain on special teams due to Lambert’s inconsistency. And the Mountaineer defense, while very good in limiting Towson to just 122 total yards in recording its first shutout since Costal Carolina in 2010, still hasn’t showcased itself extremely well against an above-average foe.

But the offense, at least for now, seems as proven as any time since the triumvirate of Smith, Stedman and Tavon graced the sidelines. Confidence is high, execution is exceptional and the future seems bright. But remember, even that offense, with that talent, stumbled down the stretch. It’s a big week, Mountaineers, with the quintessential swing foe on the horizon. This team has proven some things – but it has arguably its most imperative test in seven days. Maryland, high noon. Let the gunslinging begin.

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