MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tavon Austin caught 13 passes for 179 yards and scored all three offensive touchdowns to lead eighth-ranked West Virginia to a 31-21 victory over Maryland Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Austin scored on TD catches of 42, 24 and 34 yards – the last coming midway through the fourth quarter on a third-and-15 play at the Maryland 32 to put the Mountaineers ahead, 31-14.
“This was Tavon’s best game,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “He played fast. His energy on the sidelines was tremendous and he was the one guy we had offensively who played his best game. I can’t say that for the rest of them, though.”
After Austin’s third TD, Maryland (2-2) responded quickly with a two-play drive that covered 65 yards - 56 of those coming from Terp freshman Stefon Diggs when he took a short pass out in the flat, reversed field, and out-ran the entire WVU secondary to the end zone.
Diggs also caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Hills in the first quarter and finished the game with three catches from 113 yards.
Following Diggs’ second score, Maryland forced a short West Virginia punt and took over at its own 43. After a Hills run netted seven yards, an illegal formation penalty moved the ball back to the 44 before Karl Joseph was able to pressure on Hills that resulted in a 12-yard loss when he was flagged for intentional grounding.
On fourth down, Hills' deep pass down the middle was intercepted by Wes Tonkery, who should have knocked the ball down instead of catching it to give WVU the ball at the Maryland 32.
Instead, West Virginia took over at its own 29 but was able to run out the clock.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had another impressive statistical day, completing 30-of-43 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, but he was under constant pressure and did not have the benefit of a reliable running game.
Smith was sacked twice and hit several more times by a Maryland defense intent on blitzing just about every time he dropped back to pass.
“He was a bit off,” Holgorsen said of Smith. “He got hit early. They were pressuring him and they got to him and that rattled him a little bit. But he’s not going to give up, obviously, and he stood in there and completed a good bit (of passes).”
The Mountaineers (3-0), minus starting running back Shawne Alston who was limited all week because of a thigh bruise, according to Holgorsen, finished the game with 25 yards rushing on 25 carries. However, Buie’s eight-yard run on the first play of the final touchdown drive was important, and he also made a first down run on the Mountaineers' final drive when they were able to run out the clock. Buie finished the game with 33 yards on 14 carries.
“I didn’t feel great about the run game early,” said Holgorsen. “They were blitzing a lot and they were giving us a lot of looks, which we knew they would, and that’s hard to go up against. Defensively, they were pretty good. They have seven or eight seniors and it’s an ACC team that is getting better and better.”
West Virginia defensive back Darwin Cook came up with two big turnovers, the first coming on Maryland’s second possession of the game to set up the Mountaineers first score.
Cook perfectly timed a blitz that Hills did not see, and as the quarterback was handing the ball off to his running back, Cook blew through to knock the ball out of his hands. Teammate Doug Rigg was there to scoop up the loose ball at the 49 and run it untouched into the end zone for West Virginia’s second defensive score of the season.
Later, Cook made a heads-up play when he stripped Marcus Leak from behind on a 25-yard pass for a fumble that Terence Garvin recovered at the WVU 33.
“In all of my years of coaching I have never seen a stat line as even as this, and the only difference was turnovers,” said Holgorsen. “We got a couple of turnovers and obviously the one we got that we scooped and scored turned out to be a big play in the game.
“And offensively, for the third game in a row not having a turnover (from starting unit) is pretty special as well. Taking care of the football is what won this game.”
Holgorsen was pleased overall with his team’s defensive performance today, but he says their open field tackling still needs improving.
“We didn’t tackle well once they completed balls in space,” Holgorsen said. “They threw some curl routes and shook us and got some yardage. They got way too many yards after the catch and we will continue to work on that.”
Hills, a true freshman making his fourth career start, completed 20-of-29 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Leak contributed five catches for 69 yards while tight end Matt Furstenberg added four catches for 65 yards – all four of those catches going for first downs.
“Everything we did out there seemed hard,” said Holgorsen. “Maybe that’s because we were spoiled these last three games having the success that we have had. One of the things you have to do when you face adversity is have guys fight through that, and we did. Otherwise if we didn’t we’d be sitting here with a loss.”
Austin broke Jock Sanders’ school record for career receptions today, the senior now showing 208 career catches to move two ahead of Sanders’ 206 grabs accumulated from 2007-10.
Today's victory was West Virginia’s seventh in a row against the Terrapins dating back to a 41-7 loss to Maryland in the 2004 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
It was also the Mountaineers’ seventh win in their last nine games against ACC teams.
WVU has completed its non-conference portion of the schedule and will play host to Baylor next Saturday in the first-ever Big 12 game at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Bears came back to defeat Louisiana-Monroe Friday night to improve their record to 3-0.
“We’ve got to get better,” said Holgorsen. “I don’t think we put our best foot forward on all three sides of the ball, but we still found a way to win and that’s the sign of a good team.”