For the third straight home game, West Virginia came out ready to play and quickly jumped on its opponent with multiple scores in the first quarter.
This time it was a touchdown and a field goal to grab a 10-0 lead over South Florida on the way to a solid 20-6 victory. WVU had similar first quarter results in previous home games against Maryland and UNLV.
With an excellent defense this season, it is good to see the Mountaineers come out of the gate strong at Mountaineer Field. That leaves opponents playing from behind against that aggressive WVU defense spurred on by an enthusiastic crowd. The Mountaineer defenders took advantage and with a good pass rush harassed Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels into three interceptions.
The win Saturday was the 12th consecutive home victory. That equals the longest home win streak since WVU won 22 straight from 1922-1927, although it should be noted that in those days many of the wins were against the likes of West Virginia Wesleyan, Bethany, Grove City, Davis & Elkins and Allegheny. Head coach Bill Stewart is now 17-1 at home during his tenure. The previous head coach lost 11 home games in seven seasons. Just worth noting.
Quarterback Geno Smith had another outstanding game Thursday, completing 24 of 31 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. The receivers caught everything thrown their way, and Brad Starks continue to emerge with another touchdown catch. The bubble screen was a staple of the offense, leading to an unusual anomaly in Jock Sanders' receiving statistics. When have we ever seen a receiver catch 10 passes, yet gain a total of only 31 yards?
But the WVU running attack struggled, gaining only 79 rushing yards on the day. Some of the credit must be given to a good South Florida defense, but therein lies the problem. When facing a good defense (such as LSU), the Mountaineers have been unable to generate any consistency on the ground, and like last season there seems to be too many negative or no gain plays on first down.
It was clear on Thursday night, however, that with the WVU defense in control, the offense was very conservative, particularly when faced with poor field position. That may have contributed to the less than spectacular offensive showing, and the goal is to win the game, not rack up style points.
We saw a new wrinkle in the Mountaineer offense early in the third quarter. With the ball at the South Florida 11, Smith hit Jock Sanders with a pass in the flat, and Sanders then lateraled to Noel Devine circling from behind, who scooted in for the touchdown. That's a play we sometimes see late in a game in the middle of the field, but I don't believe I've ever seen it used so close to the goal line.
This Saturday: This week we are back to Saturday afternoon when games should be played, as Syracuse comes to Morgantown. The Orange have shown some signs of life in 2010, including an upset win at South Florida two weeks ago, but were reminded that they are still a work in progress in a 45-14 loss to Pitt on Saturday.
The Mountaineers have won eight straight in this series, and they are the better team here and should extend the streak to nine. West Virginia 27, Syracuse 13.