West Virginia scores 70, hangs on for 1st Big 12 win
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This wasn't Marshall or James Madison or even a rebuilding Maryland team confronting No. 9 West Virginia in its Big 12 debut Saturday.
This was senior quarterback Geno Smith staking his claim as the best player in college football and his No. 9 Mountaineers winning, 70-63, over No. 25 Baylor in a rollicking shootout played before 60,012 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
It was Smith completing 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns, both school records. It was Stedman Bailey catching 13 passes for a school-record 303 yards and catching five touchdown passes. It was Bailey and Tavon Austin (school-record 14 receptions, 215 yards, two TDs) becoming the first tandem in school history to surpass 200 receiving yards in the same game.
“Not every Big 12 game is like this. Not every Big 12 offense is like this. Not every game is going to be like this,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It was a situation where both offenses were playing at a pretty high level.”
No one played at a higher level than Smith, who hasn't thrown an interception in 169 passes this season and already has tossed 20 touchdown passes.
“I couldn't care less about the Heisman Trophy,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we won.”
Said Baylor coach Art Briles, who coached Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III last year: “I thought Geno was exceptional, which he has been for the past few years.
“Today, he certainly earned his cause for postseason awards.”
As he has been all season, Smith was the big story for the Mountaineers. But he wasn't alone in a back-and-forth slugfest featuring 19 touchdowns.
WVU (4-0) generated a school-record 807 yards but still needed its offense to run out the final minutes because the defense struggled against the Bears' potent attack.
Baylor (3-1), which entered Saturday ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing and total offense, amassed 700 total yards as quarterback Nick Florence (29 of 47 for 581 yards and five TDs) and receiver Terrance Williams (17 receptions for 314 yards and two TDs) set school records in passing yards and receiving yards. Williams also established a Big 12 standard for receiving yards, breaking the mark Bailey had set earlier in the game.
Trailing for the first time all season, WVU rallied from a 28-21 deficit to make it 35-28 before Baylor tied the score at 35 on the final play of the first half.
“When there's six or seven seconds left, you can't let that happen,” Holgorsen said. “To say that the defenses didn't play very well is an understatement.”
The Mountaineers scored 21 unanswered points to open the third quarter as the lead bulged to 56-35. Baylor, however, rallied to make it 56-49 and later chopped the deficit to 63-56 before WVU finally put the game away.
Again, it was Smith, operating behind nearly flawless pass protection and going through his progressions before floating a perfect pass to Bailey in the rear of the end zone for a 70-56 lead.
“It's amazing,” Bailey said. “Anytime we have a chance of going downfield, we want to try to hit it. Geno was perfect throwing the ball.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.