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WVU eyes more consistency in 2012

| Monday, March 12, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When driving across the Mason-Dixon Line on Interstate 79 South to Morgantown, you'll encounter a billboard on the right side of the road displaying a big "70" with an orange taking the place of the zero.

The sign reads, "It's not just our speed limit," followed by 70-33, the score of West Virginia's Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

It's no surprise West Virginia would celebrate the historic win. The Mountaineers scored the most points ever in a bowl game, and Dana Holgorsen became just the third coach to win a BCS bowl as a first-year head coach.

While the victory showed the capability of West Virginia's offense, it also masked the unit's inconsistency and inefficiency through the season.

"If you look at the middle of the season, there were a lot of games we were mediocre on offense," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.

West Virginia opened spring practice Sunday, and the national expectations for the Mountaineers' offense couldn't be higher. Holgorsen said the 70-point barrage was a perfect storm of the offense, defense and special teams playing well, but he said the offense still has work ahead.

"If we get a little big-headed because we scored that many points, I just got to remind them that we scored 10 against South Florida the game prior to that, so we are far from having things figured out," Holgorsen said.

Still, the win was impressive. Quarterback Geno Smith threw for a BCS-record 407 yards, tossed six touchdowns and ran for another. Receiver Tavon Austin showed how dangerous he can be with an 11-catch, 117-yard receiving performance and tallied a BCS-record four touchdowns.

West Virginia set or tied 28 individual, team and combined team records in the Orange Bowl. It's easy to balloon the expectations when the offense was unstoppable, gaining 589 total yards, but it came on the heels of three poor offensive performances as the Mountaineers limped into the BCS bowl.

"The last game of the season in my mind skews everybody's mentality," Dawson said. "I don't think you have to look very far to get grounded."

In its final three conference games, West Virginia averaged 375 yards — almost 100 yards below its season average — and 25 points per game. All three were wins, but the offense benefited from the defense and special teams.

Against Cincinnati, the Mountaineers recovered a fumble in the end zone and blocked a field goal to secure the win. Against Pitt, the defense made nine sacks in the last 25 plays. Against South Florida — after a defensive touchdown and kick return for a score — a timely fumble recovery was parlayed into a last-second field goal to clinch a share of the conference.

Despite the occasional struggles of last season, the offense returns nine starters from a unit that scored the fourth-most points in school history. That includes Smith, who set the school's single-season passing record with 4,385 yards.

The offense has the potential to score and gain yards in bunches. More importantly, Dawson believes the unit should be focused on more lofty goals.

"Hopefully Geno and everybody offensively is focused on winning every game," Dawson said. "Directly after the bowl game in Miami, everybody was talking about winning every game next year."

Additional Information:

By the numbers

Here is how West Virginia measured up offensively last season:

Passing: 346.9 yards/game (6th in country)

Rushing: 122.7 yards/game (92nd)

Total: 469.5 yards/game (15th)

Scoring: 37.6 points/game (13th)

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