WVU offense shows renewed vigor
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West Virginia's offense breathed a sigh of relief Friday afternoon after an impressive second half.
A 35-10 win over Pitt breathed some life back into the Mountaineers' offense.
WVU's much-criticized offense had been uncharacteristically ineffective throughout 2010. Coming into the 103rd "Backyard Brawl" against Pitt (6-5, 4-2), the Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2) averaged 25 points per game, which ranked 79th in the nation and averaged nearly five points fewer per game in Big East play.
Since its last loss Oct. 24, though, WVU has shown improvements on offense.
"Over that time, we've become a very mature team," said WVU quarterback Geno Smith, who passed for three touchdowns against Pitt. "We really had to evaluate ourselves, and we found out that when times got tough we didn't make plays. Now, when things get tough, we don't get down on ourselves."
In the team's two straight losses to Syracuse and Connecticut, the Mountaineers turned it over seven times. Since then, WVU has just three turnovers. That culminated Friday in zero-turnover, 25-point blowout of the Panthers.
"We've been out of sync," said slot receiver Tavon Austin, who caught two touchdowns versus Pitt. "But the game itself had us hyped up a little more, being the Backyard Brawl. ... We were able to come out and do our jobs."
After 30 minutes of play against the Panthers, it looked as if the Mountaineers' offensive struggles would continue. In the second half, it all changed. WVU scored 21 points and racked up 285 yards against the nation's 12th-best defense.
"We have adjustments, but we couldn't get to them in the first half. We got more play calls in the second half," offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said. "We just didn't have a lot of plays in the first half, so in the second half it looked a lot different."
The Mountaineers had struggled to find an identity on offense following an injury to running back Noel Devine in the team's third game of the season. Devine, who is still bothered by a bone bruise in his foot, has not been the same since the late hit in which he was injured against LSU.
Because of that, WVU has gone away from Devine and gone more toward bigger running backs Ryan Clarke and Shawne Alston.
Over the past three games, Clarke has 16 carries for 79 yards and three touchdowns. Alston has 40 carries for 182 yards in that span after coming into those games with just 12 career carries.
Alston and Clarke dominated the carries Friday against Pitt. They had 22 of the Mountaineers' 39 carries.
"We're starting to hit our stride," Alston said. "We're starting to spread the ball around a little bit more. We're starting to click a little bit more."
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