Geno Smith, West Virginia outlast Baylor in historic Big 12 shootout
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — “I might need more gun powder for this game.” Jon Kimble, West Virginia’s Mountaineer mascot, 1:48 p.m.
There’s a strong temptation right about now, with the Milan Puskar Stadium scoreboard still sparking and heaving from West Virginia’s 70-63 win over Baylor, to just start listing broken records. But we promise to curate carefully. So many high marks were hit that to behold them all at once is to risk desensitization.
West Virginia’s and Baylor’s 180 combined plays were a new stadium high. Both teams also set stadium production records with WVU’s 807 yards and Baylor’s tidy 700 (bit of a cowlick on the round number, there). Geno Smith broke the Mountaineers’ single-game scoring record with eight touchdown passes, the school’s consecutive completions record with 14 in a row and a national passing efficiency record previously held by Colt Brennan — Smith completed 88 percent of his passes (45-of-51), the most of any quarterback with at least 50 attempts — which is how you know he’s in rarefied air. His aerial yards (656) and total completions (45) are also new school records, both breaking the mark Smith set last year against LSU.
Stedman Bailey is now the Mountaineers’ career leader in receiving touchdowns with 26, surpassing his pal Tavon Austin with 24. Not to be outdone, Austin is now WVU’s all-time leading receiver; he has 2,684 yards to his name. Bailey’s 303 receiving yards on the day are a school record, and Austin’s 215 are second on that list. Austin, J.D. Woods (13 catches, 114 yards) and Andrew Buie (25 carries, 82 yards) all had career days in both touches and yardage. Bailey and Austin are also the NCAA’s first receiving tandem to each surpass the 200-yard plateau since Texas Tech’s Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree did so in 2007. (TRIVIA! Guess who their coordinator and position coach was at that time?)
The teams’ combined 70 first-half points broke a familiar WVU program record, one formerly set by the Mountaineers and Clemson in January’s Orange Bowlmageddon. Had either team made even one more field goal, the combined 136 points would have tied the Navy-North Texas scoring record set in 2007.
And then there’s Baylor, which had three 100-yard receivers in a single game for the first time in program history, saw Nick Florence break RGIII’s single-game passing record and watched Terrance Williams set single-game school records in both receptions and receiving yards — and lost. And it’s remarkable just how significantly Saturday’s game shattered some of those marks. Florence’s 581 passing yards far surpassed Griffin’s previous high of 479; Williams’ 17 catches and 314 yards greatly dwarfed the 12-catch and 208-yard highs once recorded by Kendall Wright. This is the worst peewee football cliché, but necessary: From the standpoint of pure spectacle, it’s a shame that either team had to lose today.
It defies every sense but logic that the Bears leave Morgantown with a loss. Each team punted twice, West Virginia missed one field goal and Baylor missed two. One more third-down conversion completed or denied — or a different ending to Florence’s intercepted pass on Baylor’s first offensive possession — and we’re writing a different story tonight.
The Mountaineers, to their credit, seemed to grasp this after the game. “I felt like Clemson’s defense or something,” said safety Darwin Cook, who said he wouldn’t want to play another game like Saturday’s again. “I didn’t think it was gonna be a shootout,” linebacker Isaiah Bruce confessed. “I thought we had a great understanding, and then they did exactly what we thought they would. Our goal was to try to make them one-dimensional, and we did.”
Indeed, the Bears were contained to 119 rushing yards. But they passed for 581 yards to make up for it. Even Bailey, with his 300-yard game, shied away when asked if he’d enjoy another game like the one against Baylor: “Not necessarily,” he said.
Asked the same question, Smith exhaled forcefully before answering: “No.”
Smith was a bit more jocular at the mic, and with a 656-yard passing performance in the books, we can’t begrudge him for that. Still, he was quick to rattle off everything he could’ve done to make today’s victory a more comfortable win. “I could’ve completed those five or six passes that I had incomplete; we didn’t score that first drive; we had a couple drives that stalled, a couple situations where I forced some balls and I could’ve scrambled and picked up three or four yards.”
Smith’s teammates and coaches were quicker to praise his numbers and poise. (“Well, he had tons of time,” added center Joe Madsen.) Asked what the best part of Smith’s performance was, coach Dana Holgorsen considered, and came up with the following: “Probably everything.”
Holgorsen added: “Both offenses played well. To say the defenses didn’t play well would probably be an understatement.”
Holgorsen was critical in particular of the Mountaineers’ ground game, eager to get Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison back to full speed. “Not every Big 12 game is like this. Not every Big 12 offense is like this. Not every game is going to be like this.
“It will be different next week. Texas has an unbelievable defense.”
So what happens when an unbelievable defense meets an unstoppable offense? Football gods be praised, we only have to wait a week to find out.