By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In its final game before opening Big 12 play, the West Virginia University Mountaineers managed to hold off a determined Maryland Terrapins team and gain a 31-21 win before 58,504 spectators at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
It was WVU’s seventh consecutive win over Maryland.
It was also a gray day in Morgantown. The skies were gray, the Mountaineers were dressed in their new gray uniforms and helmets, and in the first half WVU’s play on the field was a bit lackluster.
Final game statistics showed the Mountain-eers with a slim lead 363-351 in total offense. WVU’s Geno Smith completed 30 of 43 passes for 338 yards and three scores, and for the third time in as many games this season did not throw an interception.
West Virginia’s run game was non-existent for the first three quarters, though they got positive yardage in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 25 yards on the ground.
Maryland passed for 305 and ran for 46 yards.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen a stat line as even as this,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “It’s pretty much even across the board. The one exception is turnovers and we got a couple, obviously.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said, “I’m disappointed that we made some of the errors that we made that didn’t allow us to have an opportunity to win, toward the end of the game.
“One of the things we have to do is we just have to do a better job of securing the ball offensively and make sure we cut down on the penalties and the sacks.”
Maryland chewed up the clock in the first period. WVU ran a total of 10 offensive plays, but managed to hold a 14-7 lead, thanks to a 51-yard Doug Riggs fumble recovery for a score, and a 44-yard pass from Smith to Tavon Austin.
Time of possession for the Mountaineers in the first period?
A mere 3:42.
Maryland’s score came in the final two minutes of the quarter on a 42-yard pass from freshman quarterback Perry Hills to Stefon Diggs, most of the yards coming after the catch against a WVU defense that allowed the Terps to move the ball up almost at will.
Maryland drew even minutes into the second quarter when Hills threw his second TD pass of the game, a 12-yarder to Marcus Leak.
On its next possession WVU upped the tempo and began moving the ball against the Maryland defense.
Marching from its own 20, the Mountaineers drove to the Maryland nine before the drive stalled and Tyler Bitancurt booted a 37-yard field goal to put West Virginia back on top, 17-14.
The Mountaineers added a little sizzle at the end of the second quarter, just as the storm clouds moved away from the stadium area, when Austin went 24 yards with another Smith pass for a score.
Maryland took the kick and drove the field, but missed a field goal from 42 yards with one second remaining in the half. WVU took a 24-14 lead to the break.
Smith had as many incomplete passes in the first half as he had to date in the entire season. Smith was 14 of 23 for 209 yards and two TDs. The Mountaineers only managed four yards rushing, however, and one yard separated the two teams in total offense for the first 30 minutes, 213-212 in favor of West Virginia.
WVU’s first two possessions of the third quarter resulted in punts.
The Terrapins continued to control the clock. On their second possession of the second half Maryland drove from its 20 to the West Virginia 38, taking nearly five minutes off the clock before punting the ball away with just under three minutes left in the quarter.
The third quarter ended with West Virginia punting for the sixth time in the game, four more than it had all season coming into the game, and on its third consecutive possession of the second half.
Fortune struck for the Mountaineers when Darwin Cook forced a fumble after Maryland completed a pass to the 35, and Terrence Garvin recovered at the WVU 32 with 12:05 to play in the game.
The Mountaineers went into fast tempo and marched the 67 yards in just under four minutes, Smith connecting with Austin on a 34-yard pass for the score. Bitancurt’s kick made it 31-14 with 8:18 on the clock.
Maryland was not finished. On the next drive they struck quickly. Bitancurt’s kick was a touchback giving the Terps the ball on their own 25.
It took two plays for the visitors to score, the touchdown coming on a 56 yard pass-catch between Hills and Diggs, his second TD catch of the day, and Maryland, after the point, was back to within 10.
West Virginia punted for the seventh time in the game and Maryland went on the march again. They got to midfield before a sack and penalty gave them a fourth down.
Enter Wes Tonkery, who picked off Hills’ pass and West Virginia was able to close the game, running out the final 4:31 for the victory.
Austin finished the day with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith was sacked twice, the first two times this season.
While West Virginia’s defense allowed Maryland to march up and down the field, overall, Holgorsen felt WVU is getting better.
“The one negative, defensively, and I thought we played good defensively, is we didn’t tackle when they completed balls in space,” Holgorsen said.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage, and they didn’t get very many rushing yards. But they got way too many yards after the catch. We’ll continue to keep working on it.”
The Mountaineers open Big 12 conference play next Saturday when Baylor visits for homecoming. It is a noon kickoff.
Notes: Tavon Austin passed Jock Sanders (2007-10) on the WVU career receptions chart with 208 total at game’s end.
• Geno Smith passed Marc Bulger (1996-99) as all-time career pass attempts leader.
• Austin matched WVU’s single-game record with 13 catches, a mark set last week against James Madison by Stedman Bailey.
• Austin is now tied with Chris Henry (2003-04) at No. 2 on the career touchdown reception chart with 22.
• With six catches in the game, Stedman Bailey moved to No. 9 on the career receptions chart with 124.
• WVU has won 93 of its last 122 regular season games.
— Contact Bob Redd at