MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen proved today that his coaching staff knows how to make adjustments – or least how to get his football team to play harder in the second half.
Nineteenth-ranked West Virginia scored seven straight times in the second half to turn a 12-10 halftime deficit into a 55-12 romp over Norfolk State Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“We came out in the second half and played better,” said Holgorsen. “I was not very pleased with the way we played in the first half.”
As for adjustments, Holgorsen said his coaches simply tightened the screws with their players in the locker room at halftime.
“We ran the same plays in the second half that we ran in the first half,” Holgorsen explained.
West Virginia ran them much better, with the Mountaineers amassing 533 yards of offense – 390 of those coming in the second half – to run their record to 2-0 for the season.
Quarterback Geno Smith completed 20-of-34 passes for a career-high 371 yards and four touchdowns, his four TD throws matching his career high performed against Maryland last year.
Holgorsen was happy with Smith's performance, but admitted there was more left out there this afternoon, especially in the first half.
"He needs to get better," Holgorsen said. "He missed some checks and got the wrong checks a couple of times. Even one (missed check) is unacceptable."
Five different West Virginia players caught touchdowns – Devon Brown, Tavon Austin, Tyler Urban, Ivan McCartney and Brad Starks – with backup quarterback Paul Millard throwing the final score to Starks late in the fourth quarter.
Millard’s first action as a Mountaineer player resulted in a touchdown drive, and he finished the game completing 5 of 6 for 60 yards.
Brown led all receivers with four catches for 109 yards and Austin accumulated 193 all-purpose yards, including a 64-yard punt return in the first quarter that West Virginia was unable to turn into points.
In the first half, West Virginia looked like a team that forgot to hit its snooze button for the 1 p.m. start. WVU’s first three offensive possessions ended with a missed field goal, a three-and-out at its own 6, and a giveaway on downs at the Norfolk State 4.
"We're a young football team and inexperienced," said Holgorsen. "I don't know if we were trying too hard or if it was coaching error ... either way I'm proud of the way we came out in the second half."
In the meantime, the Spartans (1-1) were able to kick four field goals, three by Ryan Estep of 39, 39 and 40 yards, and another one by long distance kicking specialist Everett Goldberg of 50 yards. The 12 points scored by Norfolk State were its most in four games against FBS opponents (the Spartans were outscored 128-3 in three prior meetings against FBS schools Rutgers and Kentucky).
Estep’s last field goal right before the end of the first half came as the result of a 17-yard Corey Smith rugby punt and a Bruce Smith roughing-the-passer penalty.
The chippy Spartans, who ended the game with a Mountaineer Field record 177 yards in penalties, came out swinging on the second play of the game when backup quarterback Nico Flores fired a 56-yard completion to Xavier Boyce to the WVU 8. However, Norfolk State’s scoring drive ended back at the West Virginia 23.
Later, State’s defense was able to stop West Virginia’s offense six straight times at the 1.
“Flat out embarrassing,” said Holgorsen. “You can say schemes and that’s OK, but those are the same plays we run all of the time.”
West Virginia’s run game did get a spark from freshman Vernard Roberts, who had a game-high 64 yards on 17 carries, and WVU finished with 102 for the game. In West Virginia’s two wins against Marshall and Norfolk State Mountaineer runners have run 59 times for 144 yards.
"Our run game was not good," said Holgorsen. "We're usually targeted right, but we aren't finishing blocks. It's not what we want right now and we have to get better. I'd say Vernard ran the hardest. We need to study that a little bit more."
Freshman Dustin Garrison also gave the Mountaineers a spark, picking up 19 yards on the ground and adding 51 yards through the air, including a 36-yard pass down the middle during West Virginia’s first drive of the second half leading to Roberts’ 3-yard go-ahead score.
Chris Walley completed 16-of-27 passes for 136 yards for Norfolk State with Flores adding 61 additional yards through the air; Boyce finished the game catching eight passes for 100 yards.
The Spartans finished the game with 197 total yards.
"We gave up too many yards in the first half and part of that was offensively we put (the defense) on the field a lot," said Holgorsen. "We're more comfortable with our defensive scheme right now than we are with our offensive scheme."
The 55 points scored by the Mountaineers were the most since posting 66 against Connecticut during the 2007 season.
West Virginia will have its stiffest test of the year coming up next Saturday at Maryland, which gets two weeks to prepare for the Mountaineers after knocking off Miami on Labor Day, 32-24.