MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- This one showed perfection -- on the defensive side at least -- as West Virginia stalled Coastal Carolina, 31-0, Saturday at Mountaineer Field in the season opener for both teams.
"I'm pleased with the way our defense adjusted," Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said. "Pleased with the way we reacted and took control of the football game."
This was, after all, the first time a West Virginia team held an opponent without scoring since 2005, when they stymied Cincinnati, and the first time at home -- there were 57,867 inside the stadium yesterday -- since a 48-0 romp of Rutgers.
That's all the good, but it would be impractical to just look at the final score without pulling away some of the layers to reveal the polishing that needs done to this Mountaineers team if it wants to continue on a road to where it contends for the Big East Conference crown.
West Virginia, ranked No. 25 in the preseason Associated Press poll, led the Division I-AA Chanticleers 10-0 at halftime, a margin most thought would be wider against a Big South Conference team that won just five games last season and has a schedule dotted with teams such as Presbyterian, Gardner Webb and Delaware State.
Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, making his first start as West Virginia's quarterback, finished 20 of 27 for the day for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
At halftime, he was 13 for 17 -- mostly underneath and low-risk completions -- with a costly interception and a first-quarter touchdown pass to sophomore receiver J.D. Woods.
"It wasn't like we weren't moving the ball," Smith said. "We just had to stay patient."
And the Mountaineers had to find a way to finish.
West Virginia held possession for 10:12 of the second quarter but scored just three points, a 21-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt.
That, coupled with the Woods touchdown, allowed the Mountaineers to grasp that 10-0 halftime lead.
There was also this to consider, as a measure of how the final score, a span of more than four touchdowns, might have been a little deceptive: West Virginia standout senior running back Noel Devine, who finished with 111 yards on 23 attempts, was averaging 2.9 yards per carry in the first half, carrying 16 times for 47 yards and unable to break one deep against the Chanticleers early like many would have expected.
That wouldn't come until much later.
After West Virginia scored touchdowns at the front end of the third quarter (a 17-yard catch by senior receiver Jock Sanders) and the back end of the quarter (a 1-yard leap over the line by sophomore fullback Ryan Clarke), Devine finally ripped loose with the score 24-0.
On the second play of the fourth quarter -- in and of itself a measure of West Virginia's inability to pull away that Devine was still in the game at that juncture -- the running back roared around the right side for a 39-yard gain to the Coastal Carolina 4.
Devine then scooted in for the final touchdown to make it 31-0.
"Good opening win," Stewart said. "A long way to go, and a lot of better football to play."
On the offensive side, that is the case, as even though the offense gained 400 yards, the unit didn't appear as crisp as possible -- or not nearly as crisp as their defensive counterparts.
The West Virginia defense held the Chanticleers to 2 of 14 on third down and 186 total yards, making Coastal Carolina punt eight times.
"We were flying around out there," West Virginia senior nose tackle Chris Neild said. "We looked fast, really fast. We didn't know what to expect when we first got out there. But once we did, I thought we looked good; I thought the defense looked really good."
NOTES -- West Virginia starting middle linebacker Pat Lazear, who is still nursing a leg injury sustained in practice a few weeks ago, did not dress. As a result, senior Anthony Leonard shifted from strongside starter to the starter in the middle and junior Najee Goode was elevated to the starter at strongside. ... One piece of mystery as the opener approached -- and something Stewart wouldn't tip his hand on -- was who Smith's backup would be. In the fourth quarter, Stewart turned to freshman Barry Brunetti at quarterback to replace Smith, signifying that Brunetti had beaten out fellow-freshman Jeremy Johnson as the second option at the position. ... In somewhat of a quizzical decision as both have been very candid with the media during the preseason, Devine and Sanders declined to be interviewed following the game.
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.