West Virginia football notebook: Players pass adversity test
LANDOVER, Md. — The West Virginia football team apparently learned an important lesson after last season.
The Mountaineers pulled out close wins against Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida to conclude the 2011 regular season. After winning those contests by a total of seven points, WVU routed Clemson, 70-33, in the Orange Bowl.
Concerned that his players had forgotten how to respond to adversity following a 69-34 win over Marshall in this season's opener two weeks ago, coach Dana Holgorsen was anxious to see how they would respond to a dry spell during Saturday's game against James Madison.
Leading 28-0 in the second quarter, the Mountaineers hit some rough patches before finishing strong for a 42-12 victory.
“One thing we haven't faced going back to last year is adversity,” said Holgorsen, who is 12-3 with the Mountaineers. “We had three close games to finish the season last year and overcame adversity.
“Going out after halftime, we wanted to come back and win the second half. We ended up doing that, but we faced some adversity in the third quarter.”
WVU built on a 28-3 halftime lead but not until after James Madison made it 28-5 on a safety and the No. 8-ranked Mountaineers failed to register points on their opening two drives. They had opened the game scoring on their first four drives.
Senior quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for a season-high 411 yards and five touchdowns, tossed scoring passes on the next two drives to erase any James Madison momentum and extend the lead to 42-5 to open the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Mountaineers stopped James Madison on two drives inside the 10-yard line in the third quarter.
On one occasion, the Mountaineers tackled running back Jordan Anderson for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1. On the other drive, linebacker Tyler Anderson intercepted quarterback Justin Thorpe in the end zone.
Smith faced a blitz for the first time this season against James Madison.
“It was the first time we faced a lot of blitz in a long time,” Holgorsen said. “We're going to be able to learn from that. He needs to do a better job of getting the ball out of his hands when they're doing a lot of blitzing. He's not going to be able to sit there and scramble for five seconds.”
Said Smith, “One time I checked (down) to pass and threw to Tavon (Austin) in the corner (for a 24-yard gain). Another time I checked (down) to a pass and got lit up.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.