Mountaineers offense due for a major retooling

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NEW YORK -- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith stood against a cement wall inside of Yankee Stadium Saturday night after the Pinstripe Bowl, and paused when asked who will fill the void on offense next year.

"You know, I don't know," Smith said. " Every year it seems like different guys with this offense. We've got a couple new guys who appear to have what it takes. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication. But I'll be anxious to see as much as you."

The truth of the matter is the Mountaineers lose an unprecedented level of talent when Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey -- the team's big three -- move on to the NFL.

They were the anchors of one of the most prolific offensive eras in West Virginia history, but were held back by the team's poor defense. And they had troubles of their own along the way.

None went out with much of a bang in the Pinstripe Bowl, struggling in the wet, snowy conditions and losing to Syracuse, 38-14, at Yankee Stadium.

The offense never converted on third down in 11 tries. It was the defense which kept the Mountaineers in the game in the first half.

Syracuse, the team that plays home games in a dome, looked far more comfortable in the elements.

"It's tough we lost this game. It's not the way us seniors wanted it to go out. Life goes on and you have to live with it," said Bailey, a wide receiver. "A lot of guys are sad, especially the seniors. It's not a way we wanted to go out. Our last game playing in the gold and blue. We wanted to get a win and we didn't."

Smith, victimized twice for safeties, completed just 16 of 24 passes for 197 yards. He fumbled on an exchange with new center Jeff Braun, replacing academically ineligible Joe Madsen.

Austin, a hybrid receiver/running back, caught two passes for 21 yards and rushed for just 57 on 12 carries.

"The couple big plays I did make all got called back [because of penalties]," Austin said. "You've got to just keep pushing."

Bailey had the most success of all three, collecting 126 receiving yards on seven catches. He scored two touchdowns.

Still, their absence will leave coach Dana Holgorsen with a tall order to fill next season.

Not only does he have to find a way to improve one of the worst defenses in team history, but he also will have to develop a new quarterback and find some go-to receivers.

Backup Paul Millard, who will be a junior next fall, will compete for quarterback with Holgorsen recruit Ford Childress, a redshirt this year.

"I know Dana's going to have those guys battling starting with breakfast," Smith. "I'm anxious to see who comes out on top. We've got wonderful quarterbacks and I think both are capable."

But the evaluation period begins now, and will be a long one.

Holgorsen perhaps said it best in his postgame comments Saturday, closing a frustrating season.

"We'll evaluate everything and see where we are at," he said. "We have to re-evaluate a lot of things in our program to see what we have to do to get better to compete in the Big 12."

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Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.


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