Offense returns to help WVU to break two-game loss streak
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen had been waiting for a performance like this.
The Mountaineers, who had lost back-to-back games heading into Saturday, had struggled with penalties and turnovers in crucial situations throughout Big East play.
At home against Cincinnati, those woes went away for the most part, and the Mountaineers (6-3, 2-2) put on a show in a 37-10 victory.
"Penalties and turnovers played a big part in our three losses this year," Mullen said Saturday. "That's been our biggest problem the last few weeks, but not so much today. That made a huge difference."
West Virginia's offense turned the ball over twice -- and only once when the starters were in the game. The Mountaineers also tied a season low with two penalties.
"We did the same thing we've done all season and did what the defense was giving us," said quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for four touchdowns. "I just wanted to take care of the ball and not put our defense in bad situations."
After the team's 16-13 overtime loss at Connecticut on Oct. 29, coach Bill Stewart led a re-evaluation of the program that included a look into the offensive problems. The team learned that the unit's worst enemy was itself.
"I hoped we could make some adjustments, and we did," Stewart said. "We found some things that we needed to do better with, and we did that."
West Virginia made an effort to push the ball down the field, and that led to its first touchdown to receiver Tavon Austin. It also opened up underneath routes, like a short hitch route that receiver Jock Sanders caught, broke a tackle and ran 45 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
"We didn't change any plays; we just made more plays," said Sanders, who caught two touchdown passes. "The play-calling is still the same, but the guys just strained a little more."
West Virginia came into the game averaging just 24.5 points, second-to-last in the Big East. Yet against Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), West Virginia's offense did what it has only done three times before under Stewart: score more than 30 points in a conference game.
Now, the Mountaineers are ranked fourth or better in every major offensive category in the Big East.
"Nothing was different. It was just the tale of the turnovers," Smith said. "It was the same amount of yards, the same guys, the same effort -- we just didn't turn it over."