MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Auburn scored 24 points off six costly West Virginia turnovers as the Mountaineers fell, 41-30, on Saturday evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Despite holding one of the nation’s best rushing units to just 100 yards, WVU’s miscues in the second, third and fourth quarters offset a flawless first quarter in which it jumped out to a 21-10 lead.
Without defensive tackle Scooter Berry and middle linebacker Reed Williams, the Mountaineer defense surrendered 300 yards passing to a no-huddle Auburn offense that often ran plays every 15-25 seconds throughout the contest. Quarterback Chris Todd completed 16 of 31 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns, including three to wideout Darvin Adams.
Tailback Noel Devine had another breakout performance, tallying a career-high three touchdowns and 128 yards to lead an effective yet mistake-prone Mountaineer offense. Slot back Jock Sanders recorded 12 receptions for 115 yards, both career highs, and one touchdown to lead WVU on the receiving end.
Sanders also becomes the first Mountaineer receiver to record double-digit receptions in a single contest since Antonio Brown hauled in 10 catches at Maryland on Sept. 29, 2001. Sanders’ 12 catches tie former Mountaineers David Saunders, Shawn Foreman, Pat Greene and Mickey Walczak for the most receptions in a single game.
Quarterback Jarrett Brown was plagued by four interceptions, his final one being returned for a touchdown when the Mountaineers were trying to score the go-ahead touchdown. The senior was 18 of 32 for 215 yards and one touchdown, and rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries.
WVU out-gained Auburn in total offense, 509-400, collecting 207 rushing yards to double Auburn’s output on the ground. The Mountaineers fall to 8-2 when Devine amasses 100 yards on the ground, as the junior followed his career-high 207 yards against the Tigers last season with another superb effort.
Although WVU was shut out, 10-0, in the second quarter, its 219 yards of total offense in the first quarter helped give it a quick 14-0 lead. On a third and 9 at the WVU 41, Brown rolled to his right and found a diving Bradley Starks for a 58-yard reception. Devine followed with a two-yard run up the middle to give WVU an early 7-0 lead with 12:52 left in the first quarter.
Two plays into its second drive, the Mountaineers padded their lead when Devine broke away through the left side for a 71-yard touchdown run to put the Mountaineers on top, 14-0. It was Devine’s second-longest touchdown run of his career.
Auburn’s frenetic offense allowed it to creep back into the game. With 7:24 remaining in the first quarter, the Mountaineer defense stuffed a promising drive by Auburn, settling for a 46 yard field goal by Wes Byrum to trim the lead to 14-3.
After a sack of Brown and forced fumble by the Tigers gave them possession at WVU’s 45, Adams reached the end zone on a 16-yard reception from Todd.
Sanders answered for WVU with a six-yard touchdown reception to put WVU on top, 21-10. The quick, eight-play, 74-yard drive was keyed by a 26-yard reception by Alric Arnett, who weaved in and out of would-be tacklers.
After WVU linebacker Ovid Goulbourne made his first career interception to the Auburn 19, the Mountaineers gave the ball right back to Auburn when Neiko Thorpe’s pick put the ball at the Tigers’ 32. The drive ended with another field goal by Byrum, this time from 42 yards, to make it 21-13.
Adams capped the first half for the Tigers with a four yard-touchdown catch to pull within one, 21-20.
WVU’s opening drive of the second half was similar to its first two drives of the game when the Mountaineers went the length of the field and Devine winded up in the end zone, this time from 12 yards. WVU emerged with some trickery during the drive as flanker Starks caught a pass from Brown behind the line of scrimmage, then threw a 31-yard strike to Sanders on the eight-play, 76 yard drive. Tyler Bitancurt missed the extra point to make it a one-possession game.
Tigers responded quickly when Mario Fannin took a screen pass 82 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 8:02 left in the third quarter. The score marked the first point in the contest in which Auburn was not trailing.
Slot receiver Wes Lyons made a key third-down catch to Auburn’s 26 that led to Bitancurt’s 28 yard field goal to give West Virginia a 30-27 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
Then there were more turnovers for the Mountaineers. An interception by Auburn defensive lineman Jake Ricks on an errant screen pass that he took to the WVU 19 set up its first lead of the game. Adams caught his third touchdown pass, this one from 17 yards, to give the Tigers their first lead at 34-30.
Brown’s fourth interception came with 3:41 left when a middle screen pass was picked by Craig Stevens for a 15 yard score to dampen WVU’s chance of a comeback.
Brown injured his left wrist with 3:32 left in the fourth, bringing in true freshman quarterback Geno Smith, who went 5 of 8 with 50 yards and one interception on WVU’s final two drives.
The Mountaineers entered the contest having won 60 of their past 61 games when scoring 30-plus points. Tonight’s contest was delayed by one hour and four minutes because of heavy rain and lightning, the first time WVU has undergone a weather delay since Oct. 5, 1991, against Virginia Tech.
Tonight’s attendance of 87,451 was the third-largest crowd to ever see West Virginia play.
WVU (2-1) has 12 days to get over this one before taking on Colorado in a nationally-televised Thursday night matchup on Oct. 1 in Morgantown. The contest begins at 7:45 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.