West Virginia's Jarrett Brown avoids Liberty defenders yesterday at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
By Colin Dunlap Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A win is a win is a win.
That's probably what is best extracted from what West Virginia (1-0) did to Division I-AA Liberty (0-1) in a 33-20 victory yesterday at Mountaineer Field.
The Mountaineers triumphed in front of 57,950 on a glorious, postcard day.
Then again, they were supposed to -- anything less would have sent shockwaves through college football.
West Virginia was bigger, faster, hit harder and the game came down to what so many of these opening week, big conference vs. smaller opponent games invariably trickle to -- West Virginia had better, more highly-skilled football players.
"We played a good football team," Liberty coach Danny Rocco said. "And we knew that before we came up here."
Yes, West Virginia was good yesterday, but just in some facets. The Mountaineers were not where they need to be in other aspects if they hope to contend for a Big East title.
First, the good:
• Jarrett Brown, a fifth-year senior going into his first season as a starter, went 19 for 26 for 243 yards passing and rushed for 69 more yards. He scored on a 22-yard draw in the second quarter to make it 17-10, which gave the Mountaineers a lead they wouldn't relinquish after the teams traded early field goals and touchdowns.
"He had an extremely productive day," Rocco said. "He was in a league of his own back there; we couldn't get him on the ground."
• Noel Devine, after teasing fans much of the day, finally ripped off that big run, a 24-yard touchdown with 6:57 remaining that put the game out of reach, advancing the Mountaineers to a 33-13 lead. Devine finished with 112 yards on 17 carries.
"Obviously," Rocco said, "Noel Devine is a special player."
• Tyler Bitancurt, a redshirt freshman kicker playing in his first game, went 4 for 4, making field goals from 38, 35, 45 and 36 yards and seemed to answer some questions about who would step in and fill a void left by the graduation of Pat McAfee, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.
• As promised as camp was coming to a close last month by offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, the tight ends became a threat in the passing game, as Norwin High School product Tyler Urban pulled in two passes for 49 yards, one going for 33 yards. It adds a whole new component to Brown's passing attack. "Wasn't it nice to see a tight end catch a ball?" West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart asked.
But with those positive points came the undeniable bad ones:
• "Kick coverage wasn't good," Stewart said.
Of the eight times West Virginia kicked off, the worst starting field position Liberty had was its 26 and started at its 38 or better four times.
• The Mountaineers went 5 for 5 in red-zone chances, but it was not satisfying to many offensive players because just one of those scores -- a Ryan Clarke 2-yard run to put the Mountaineers ahead, 10-3, in the first quarter -- was a touchdown. Starting left tackle Don Barclay summed things up, saying, "Getting three [points] is OK, but we have to score some touchdowns when we get chances; we just have to."
• Liberty had what seemed to be just one pass-catch combination, and the Mountaineers' defense could not stop it. Of the 22 completions for Liberty quarterback Tommy Beecher (who went 22 for 33 for 210 yards), 11 of those passes were pulled in by Mike Brown for 157 yards. Brown scored both Liberty touchdowns, on a 20-yard catch in the second quarter to tie the score at 10-10, and then with 52 seconds left in the game to narrow the final score of a contest already decided. That said, Brown caused fits for the West Virginia secondary all day.
But when the good was mixed with the bad, the good seemed to outweigh the bad -- at least that's what the scoreboard yielded as West Virginia won its sixth home opener in a row.
"We got a win," Stewart said. "And that's what it's about."
NOTES -- Robert Sands was listed at the top of the depth chart at free safety and Eain Smith No. 2 at the position, but Smith got the surprising start yesterday. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said: "I just thought Eain was the better player coming into this game, right now." Sands didn't hang his head, though, he recorded four tackles and an interception. Smith had five tackles. ... The Mountaineers escaped relatively injury free. Starting receiver Wes Lyons (hamstring) and starting strong safety Nate Sowers (knee) both left the game early, but Stewart said their injuries were very minor and both were removed as a precaution.