West Virginia: 5 consecutive TDs make up for listless first half

Smith's arm sparks rally


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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Say this about No. 19 West Virginia so far this season: The Mountaineers respond.

They scored five consecutive second-half touchdowns Saturday on their way to a 55-12 blowout against Norfolk State to start the season 2-0.

This came from a team that trailed, 12-10, at the half, looked lifeless on offense and was outgained, 179-19, in total yards after the first quarter.

"Obviously I'm not really pleased with the first half," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "We're a young football team and inexperienced. I don't know if we are trying too hard or if it was coaching error. Either way, I'm proud of the way we came out in the second half."

Quarterback Geno Smith led the second-half charge, engineering six consecutive scoring drives to set off "Country Roads" to 51,911 at Mountaineer Field.

He completed 20 of 34 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns on the day and delivered the long ball on more than a few occasions. He found nine receivers, in all.

"I just think we didn't come out and play our game for whatever reason. The second half was a bit of night and day," said Smith. "We got into a groove, started moving the ball well. ... But we're still trying to get better."

The scoring spree started when freshman running back Vernard Roberts ran in a 3-yard touchdown with a minute, nine seconds elapsed in the second half. He established himself as the most effective back by game's end, rushing for 64 yards on 17 carries.

Tavon Austin scored on a 3-yard reception with 10:12 left in the third quarter, Dustin Garrison ran in from the 1 with 4:52 left, Tyler Urban hauled in an 8-yarder with 2:29 to go and Ivan McCartney grabbed a 39-yard touchdown pass 50 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it five touchdowns in a row.

Norfolk State had led, 6-0, on two field goals, while the Mountaineers missed a field goal, went three-and-out and turned the ball over on downs inside the 10-yard line on its first three possessions.

The Spartans completed a long pass on the second play of the game for a 56-yard gain, then kicked a 50-yard field goal to take the game's first lead after multiple delay-of-game penalties thwarted the drive.

Defensively, the Mountaineers gave up just 13 first downs and no touchdowns to the Spartans' flip-flopping quarterbacks, Chris Walley (16 of 27 for 136 yards) and Nico Flores (16 rushing yards on eight carries and 2 of 3 passes for 61 yards).

All of Norfolk State's scoring drives ended in field goals.

"We bend but don't break," said West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin. "They had almost 200 yards the first half. We've got to learn how to come out fast."

Perhaps the worst display of the Mountaineers offense came on the team's first possession of the second quarter.

Austin eluded two tacklers to turn a short pass completion into a 45-yard gain and put his team on the 1.

But the offense sputtered and couldn't score on six plays -- four passes and two rushes -- on a series extended by a pass interference penalty.

"That's flat-out embarrassing," said Holgorsen. "It's embarrassing. I don't have an answer for you. Want to say it's scheme. But it's the same stuff we've done."

Tyler Bitancurt finally kicked a 17-yard field goal to make it 6-3.

Smith said his team talked extensively at halftime about getting into sync and responded to Holgorsen's message.

"I think he's a laid-back guy to the media, but to us, it's kind of like Jekyll and Hyde," said Smith. "He gets on us. He was kind of irate, but he stayed positive. That's what a great leader does."

NOTE -- West Virginia honored former quarterback Chris Gray before the game. Gray, a quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1988-1991, was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. He worked for the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost all 658 employees that day. Gray's brother Tim represented him as an honorary captain.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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