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WVU defense turns tide in win over UConn

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — Just when it seemed like West Virginia had no momentum, the Mountaineer defense came up big.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Jewone Snow's 80-yard fumble return turned the tide in West Virginia's 43-16 win over Connecticut Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Down 10-9, the Huskies were driving with the ball at the West Virginia 13. Quarterback Johnny McEntee dropped back as the pocket collapsed forcing him to scramble left. As he spun to pick up an extra yard, cornerback Pat Miller put his helmet on the ball, sending it straight into the air.

Snow caught it and sprinted 80 yards down the sideline to the Connecticut 12. It was the longest fumble return for West Virginia since 1993 when Mike Collins returned one for 97 yards for a touchdown against Missouri.

Two plays later, quarterback Geno Smith connected with Tavon Austin for a 12-yard touchdown to put West Virginia up 17-9.

Smith finished with another big stat day, completing 27 of 45 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns. It's the second-highest, single-game total in West Virginia history behind Smith's own 463-yard performance two weeks ago against LSU.

After forcing a Connecticut three-and-out, Smith then hit Stedman Bailey near the sideline. Bailey made Ty-meer Brown miss and outran the defense for an 84-yard touchdown, making it 24-9 Mountaineers.

The teams traded possessions before Connecticut (2-4, 0-1) found itself pinned on its own 6-yard line. McEntee faced a heavy blitz and was sacked in the end zone by Snow and Bruce Irvin for a safety.

West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) scored three touchdowns and a safety in the third quarter. The Mountaineers have outscored their opponents, 89-23, in the third this season.

The Mountaineers got off to another slow start. After taking a 3-0 lead on a 31-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal, Connecticut made two straight Dave Teggart field goals including a career-long 53-yard try. West Virginia's first four offensive drives ended in a field goal, turnover and then two punts.

West Virginia started at Connecticut's 45 with 5:03 left in the second quarter, after punt returner Tavon Austin was taken down by Tevrin Brandon with a horse collar tackle. Seven plays later, freshman Dustin Garrison found a hole, dodged a defender then dragged a tackler into the end zone as the Mountaineers retook the lead, 10-6.

The Mountaineers tried to add to its lead just before the end of the half, but Geno Smith's quarterback sneak on fourth down was stopped for a loss. Connecticut drove 53 yards in 55 seconds, and Teggart added a 22-yard field goal to pull the Huskies within one, 10-9, at the half.

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