WVU tries to seal the deal early

Mountaineers ride fast starts to a 4-1 record

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The first cuts are the deepest.

At least that's a theory the West Virginia football team has subscribed to through five games, propelling the Mountaineers to a 4-1 record.

To explain: Including Saturday's 34-13 victory in a Big East Conference opener against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, West Virginia has scored first in four of five games.

To that end, the Mountaineers have outscored opponents in the first quarter, 59-30, this year.

When breaking down West Virginia's scoring by quarters, of the Mountaineers' 167 points scored this year, the squad has put up 59 of those -- or more than 35 percent -- in the first quarter.

These Mountaineers are fast starters.

What lends itself to this trend?

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart thinks getting going early might just be the result of, well, starting early -- as in a carryover from some offseason, before-the-sun-comes-up workouts.

"Coming out of the gate was started in 6 a.m. workouts in January, and then in the spring and then in camp; we had some of those early morning workouts where you had to be taped and ready to go at 6 a.m.," Stewart said. "Our motto was setting a tempo early and never hitting the snooze button. I honestly think those workouts have carried a mentality over to the games and have been the reason we have come out, in the early part of the games, and are starting fast."

The only game West Virginia has failed to score first this year was against East Carolina, and the Mountaineers coolly fought back from a 10-0 deficit to win that one, pushing a touchdown across before the end of the first quarter.

Even the game West Virginia lost -- a 41-30 defeat at Auburn -- the Mountaineers had a 14-0 lead with less than five minutes gone in the opening quarter.

The interesting thing with the first quarter scoring has been that the Mountaineers have done it just about every way imaginable.

They've done it with big plays -- like Noel Devine's touchdown runs of more than 70 yards against Auburn and Colorado -- and have done it with long drives, such as the 10-play, 76-yard march in the season opener against Liberty capped by a Ryan Clarke 2 yard score.

Against Syracuse, West Virginia found yet another avenue; turning defense to quick-strike offense, as Devine caught an 11-yard swing pass for a score on West Virginia's first offensive play after the Mountaineers forced an Orange turnover and returned it deep into Syracuse territory.

"We definitely had to make a point," West Virginia left tackle Don Barclay said of the first score against Syracuse. "That was big by our defense; they played really good and put us in good field position. Whenever that happens, you have to respond and help them out."

While there is no denying West Virginia comes out of the locker room roaring and ready to go at beginning of games, there is one cloud hanging over the Mountaineers' point production this year -- they have scored just 26 third-quarter points and 35 fourth-quarter points.

Or, to put it another way, in the collective second halves of the five games, the Mountaineers have scored just two more points than they have in collective first quarters of games.

"I've been talking to them about closing the deal," Stewart said. "We've got to close the deal.

"You do that with maturity and mental toughness. We have come close to closing the deal, but there's always been a fumble here or a fumble there or something goes wrong and, before you know it, you are in a battle."

Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459. He blogs about West Virginia University football with your comments at 'Eers to the Ground .


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