Midway through the third quarter Saturday West Virginia had stopped Maryland on downs at the WVU 6 yard line, and having dominated the game to that point with a commanding 34-10 lead, Mountaineer fans started to put up their feet and enjoy the rest of a good romp.
But it never seems to be that easy, does it? Suddenly the Terps came to life, scoring touchdowns in their next three possessions in less than 10 minutes of playing time to cut the lead to 34-31. The momentum had shifted, and West Virginia was in serious jeopardy of letting victory escape its grasp.
The Mountaineer offense then responded, however, with a 14-play, 66-yard drive. Although they were only able to produce a field goal, it essentially reduced the game to one final possession for Maryland. And the West Virginia defense, on its heels the entire second half, came up with an interception with just over a minute remaining to preserve a hard fought 37-31 win.
This game was an example of how different college football is from the NFL. While professional teams each lumber through about 60 plays per game, because of the increased tempo, more passing, and different timing rules, the college game produces more plays and scoring. On Saturday WVU ran 80 plays for 480 total yards while Maryland had 87 plays for 477.
The prolific West Virginia offense we witnessed on Saturday was what Mountaineer fans were looking for when Dana Holgorsen came to town. Geno Smith completed a remarkable 36 of 49 passes for 388 yards, and for the first time ever three West Virginia receivers each gained over 100 yards. The running game showed some improvement. The hope is that this offense will continue to get better as the season progresses.
The Mountaineer defense, having lost seven starters from last season, is more vulnerable than the outstanding 2010 stop unit. So hold onto your hats, as there will likely be more shootouts in 2011.
The WVU special teams were solid, and Tyler Bitencurt quietly converted all four of his field goal attempts, providing the final margin of victory. For that success credit must be given to the Parkersburg South connection of snapper Cody Nutter and holder Michael Molinari. Nobody ever notices that part of the kicking game unless they make a mistake.
THIS SATURDAY: Don't look for any shootouts this week, as No. 3 LSU comes to Morgantown. While the Mountaineers will be underdogs, this game presents a great opportunity. It should be a raucous atmosphere at Mountaineer Field for this 8 pm nationally televised game (ABC) and the first Morgantown appearance of ESPN College Gameday
While LSU struggled to defeat the Mountaineers 20-14 in Baton Rouge last year, this is a much better Tiger team. They are old school, winning with great defense and a punishing running game. To have a chance at victory West Virginia will need to win the turnover battle and make a big play or two on special teams, as the war on the line of scrimmage will likely be won by LSU. I received a lot of good natured ribbing after picking the Mountaineers to lose last week, so I'll try and keep that streak of being wrong alive. LSU 23 WEST VIRGINIA 17.