Ron Cook: There was no defense for WVU offense

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Phil Bennett emerged from the Baylor locker room Saturday with a stats book from the game against West Virginia, dreading to peak at it on the long flight back to Waco, Texas. We're talking horror worse than any Stephen King novel. Not surprisingly, Bennett passed on the bag lunch from Chick-fil-A on his way to the team bus. Eat? You expected the man to eat? On this day? Are you kidding?

"I'm beat up from the feet up," Bennett said.

Bennett is in his second season as the Baylor defensive coordinator, the same job he had at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt from 2008-10. His defense had just been lit up for historic numbers in a 70-63 loss in West Virginia's first league game as a Big 12 Conference member. It made wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey look like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. It also made quarterback Geno Smith the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

"He certainly didn't hurt his cause for postseason awards," Baylor coach Art Briles said, dryly.

Briles and Bennett know what a Heisman winner looks like. So do their players. One of their own won the thing last season. You've heard of Robert Griffin III? Perhaps you know him better as RGIII.

"Yeah, we do know what one looks like," Bennett said. "That kid has a chance. But he's going to face better defenses than ours."

That's pretty much what West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said outside his locker room. "Not every Big 12 game is going to be like this." He was right, of course. That has to be good news if you like a little defense with your football. There might not be another conference game all season in which the teams combine for 133 points and 1,507 yards.

But that's what made Smith's effort so extraordinary. He finished with pinball numbers that made for a lot of heavy reading for Bennett on the airplane and will cause him severe stomach distress when he reviews the game tape today. I'm not sure I've ever typed 'em in the same sentence with any quarterback's name: 45 completions in 51 attempts for 656 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He's completed 83.4 percent of his passes this season for 1,728 yards, 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Putting up those kinds of numbers is huge," said Baylor's Nick Florence, who, despite throwing for 581 yards and five touchdowns, was the lesser of the two quarterbacks Saturday.

"It doesn't matter who you are or who you are playing against."

Even Holgorsen, who is known for being hard to please, asked of Smith's performance, "Can you please tell me how you can improve on that?"

It's funny, West Virginia's offense was dynamite when coach Rich Rodriguez was calling plays for quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton a few years back. Well, it was dynamite except for a game against Pitt Dec. 1, 2007. But this West Virginia offense might be better. I didn't think the college game had an equal for Rodriguez as an offensive genius, but Holgorsen might be it. He showed what he knows about offensive football in the Orange Bowl last season when West Virginia put up 70 points against Clemson. The Mountaineers, who came into the Baylor game ranked No. 9 in The Associated Press poll, have been even better this season. Their first offense hasn't committed a turnover. They are off to a 4-0 start, although the competition figures to get tougher Saturday night when they play at Texas.

"A lot of the throws [Smith] made were right there. He really dropped the ball in," Bennett said. "He has played a lot of football. He knows where to go with it."

More often than not, Austin or Bailey is there to catch the pass from Smith. They combined for 27 catches, 518 yards and 7 touchdowns against Baylor. The third wide receiver -- J.D. Woods -- also had more than 100 receiving yards and made the catch of the game, a terrific one-handed grab to help the Mountaineers kill the clock at the end.

The West Virginia running game is nothing special, but Bennett said Smith and his receivers are good enough to overcome it. It's not just that Smith throws a lot of quick, safe passes to the outside. The Mountaineers use what they call a jet sweep. Austin or Bailey will go from one side of the field to the other in front of Smith, who is in the shotgun, and take a little flip pass that is surprisingly difficult to stop. West Virginia ran it -- or passed it, I guess -- five times against Baylor before using it to set up the day's biggest play, if there is such a thing in a 70-63 game. Smith faked the flip pass to Austin and found Bailey alone behind the Baylor defense for an 87-yard touchdown that pushed West Virginia's lead to 63-49 early in the fourth quarter.

"One of our young kids bit on the fake," Bennett said. "We were awfully young in the secondary out there."

All-Big 12 safety Mike Hicks missed the game with a knee injury and cornerback Demetri Goodson broke an arm early in the game.

"That's no excuse, though," Bennett said. "I don't think we were going to stop them today."

Not Austin and Bailey.

Certainly, not Smith, who really did have that Heisman look.

"Today, he did," said Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams, who was almost an afterthought despite having 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns against a West Virginia defense that is every bit as bad as the Mountaineers offense is good.

"[Smith] played a great game. He was darn-near perfect."

That makes for an interesting thought, doesn't it?

What does the perfect game look like?

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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