Smith's Pick Seals It
And that’s exactly what happened late in the fourth quarter when senior safety Eain Smith came up with a key interception at the 6 with 1:13 left to preserve the 18th-ranked West Virginia’s 37-31 victory over Maryland Saturday at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
“I just tried to make a play for my team,” Smith said afterward.
Maryland (1-1) nearly overcame a 24-point third quarter deficit by taking advantage of an inexperienced WVU defense that gave up 188 yards on the ground, 477 yards overall, and 29 first downs for the game.
"You know, a big win for the Mountaineers," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "If there was a single thing that we tried to get accomplished, it was just to hit the field with some excitement, start the game fast."
The Terps ran 48 offensive plays in the second half, scoring touchdowns on three of its five second-half possessions, and being turned away in Mountaineer territory on the other two.
In a game of momentum, West Virginia had it in the first half and nearly lost all of it in the fourth quarter.
“They scored and we didn’t, that’s pretty much what it boils down to,” said Holgorsen, now 3-0 to match Bobby Bowden’s 3-0 start to begin his first season at WVU in 1970. “We came out and scored but they marched it down and scored and they got a little momentum.
“I can’t remember how many three-and-outs we had, but it seemed like we had three or four of them in a row,” said Holgorsen.
With West Virginia leading 34-10 after Stedman Bailey’s 34-yard touchdown catch on WVU’s opening possession of the third quarter, the Terps drove all the way to the Mountaineer 6, where the WVU defense was able to put up a wall and turn Maryland away on downs.
After an illegal block in the back penalty called on receiver Kerry Boykins moved the football back to the 22, a pair of O’Brien passes netted 16 yards to the 6. O’Brien’s third down pass to Boykins and fourth down pass to tight end Matt Furstenberg fell incomplete, turning the ball over to West Virginia on downs.
But later, touchdown runs by Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams got Maryland to within two scores, 34-23, and then the Terps added eight more midway through the fourth quarter when Adams scored his second TD of the game and Meggett’s two-point run made it a three-point game, 34-31, with 10:29 left.
West Virginia was forced to keep the football in the air with junior quarterback Geno Smith hitting two critical third-down passes to Stedman Bailey for 21 yards on third and four, and then 13 yards to Ryan Nehlen on third and nine to the Maryland 28 to keep the sticks moving.
The Mountaineers got to the Maryland 3, but three cracks to get the ball in – a Shawne Alston run and two Smith passes – were unsuccessful, setting up a Tyler Bitancurt 21-yard field goal, his third of the game.
Bitancurt’s other field goals came from 35 and 34 yards in the first half.
Bitancurt’s kick with 4:42 left to make the score 37-31 was certainly helpful, but it didn’t completely shut the door on Maryland’s comeback attempt.
Terp quarterback Danny O’Brien was able to march them into West Virginia territory, getting a pair of short first-down runs by Adams, the second on fourth and 1 at the Maryland 35, to keep the drive alive. Three straight O’Brien completions netted 19 yards to the West Virginia 37 to set up Smith’s game-saving pick two plays later.
Smith said the secondary was able to confuse O’Brien with their alignment right before the ball was snapped.
“They came out in empty and we sort of checked to their formation,” Smith explained. “It was a form of (cover) two and I just trailed the man. He probably thought I had man on three because I showed in a little bit on the three receiver and then I moved out on two late, and that’s probably why he thought it was man.”
O’Brien threw three critical interceptions, one returned by Terence Garvin 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to give the Mountaineers a 14-3 lead. It was West Virginia’s first defensive score since Sidney Glover’s pick six against Rutgers in 2009. West Virginia’s other pick came from strong safety Darwin Cook when O’Brien locked onto his receiver the entire time, enabling Cook to jump the route.
West Virginia got a pair of rushing touchdowns from freshmen Vernard Roberts (nine yards) and Andrew Buie (10 yards) - Buie’s TD run (his first of the season) making up for his fumble on WVU’s opening possession that led to Nick Ferrara’s 25-yard field goal to begin today’s scoring.
Smith had a career day passing the football, completing 36 of 49 for 388 yards – all career highs – with one touchdown, the 32nd of his Mountaineer career. Smith now has seven TD passes in three games this season.
Three different receivers finished the afternoon with 100 yards, the first time that has ever happened in Mountaineer football history. Baltimore native Tavon Austin made his triumphant return to the Old Line State by catching 11 passes for 122 yards; Bailey caught eight balls for 113 yards and Ivan McCartney finished with eight receptions for 101 yards.
It was Austin’s second career 100-yard receiving game and the first for Bailey and McCartney.
For the second time this year, West Virginia’s run game failed to reach 100 yards, it had trouble getting tough yards in key situations, and it also coughed up the ball twice, but the Mountaineers did manage to get enough yards on the ground (92) to keep the Terps honest.
"We really started good, the first half on all three sides of the ball. The second half, first run for offense, last run for defense, you know, I thought they outplayed us on all three sides of the ball," Holgorsen noted. "Good news is we had enough and had a good drive offensively after the third field goal where we should have gotten a touchdown. We at least got three points to make it a six-point game.”
O’Brien ended the day 34 of 52 for 289 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions, while Meggett had a game-high 119 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Today’s victory was West Virginia’s sixth in a row over the Terps dating back to 2004, and was also the seventh in eight tries against Randy Edsall-coached teams. Last year, Edsall’s Connecticut Huskies upset the Mountaineers in overtime on the way to the school’s first-ever BCS bowl game appearance. That remains Edsall’s only win over West Virginia.
“I’m very disappointed in the outcome of the game," said Edsall. "I thought that we made too many errors out there. We had a chance to win the ballgame at the end but we didn’t get it done. There are things that we have to work on; every week there are going to be things that we have to work on."
WVU will face its biggest test of the season next Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium when third-ranked LSU comes to town. The Tigers ran their record to 3-0 with a 19-6 victory over LSU on Thursday night.
LSU will be making its first-ever appearance in Morgantown.
Kickoff time and television coverage will be announced later.
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