By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — It was a man who neither threw a pass nor caught one on a day when West Virginia passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns who summed up their first game as a member of the Big 12 Conference best.
“They wanted to introduce us to Big 12 football but I think we introduced them to Mountaineer football,” said center Joey Madsen.
Indeed, this was Mountaineer football at its finest, at least on the offensive side of the ball as WVU scored 70 points and needed darn near every one of them in a 70-63 victory over Baylor before a sold out crowd of 60,012 and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
Geno Smith etched his name a little deeper onto the Heisman Trophy as he and receiver Stedman Bailey rewrote the WVU record book, Smith completing 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns.
Much of the output went to Bailey, coming off a down game against Maryland the previous week, as he caught 13 passes for 303 yards and five of the eight TDs.
The completions by Smith, the yardage, the touchdowns all were school marks, breaking his own records, while Bailey’s 303 yards broke the WVU mark set by Chris Henry against Syracuse by almost 100 yards, Henry having gotten 209 yards that day.
Needless to say, the five TDs were a record, too, but then so was just about every other offensive statistic, including a combined 1,507 total yards by the two teams.
In some ways the game simply broke down into an elevated game of catch or perhaps the kind of game that every kid has been involved in sandlot football.
“I wouldn’t say sandlot but it did feel like one of those classic Texas shootouts. This is what the Big 12 is all about,” Smith said.
They told us all about the Big 12, but no one could really imagine how different the football was.
It was like defense was illegal.
“I told everybody it was going to be different,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Tony Caridi asked me on the radio show Thursday night if we would noticeably be able to see a difference and I said, yes, absolutely. Especially compared to last week when Louisville (he meant Maryland) would get over the ball and stare at the sidelines for 30 seconds. It’s not going to be like that.”
That Maryland game was a downer, “just” 31 points for WVU and statistics to match.
It was a performance that Smith did not want to repeat.
“Like I said last week it’s just great to get a win. Last week people were saying we were the worst offense in the country because we scored 31 points against Maryland. I say every week, every game has a different story,” the quarterback said.
“This game was all about us pushing through as a team and as an offense. I think we did a great job of overcoming adversity. Defense, I don’t want those guys to hold their heads. This is a team game and I’m pretty sure we’ll need those guys pretty soon.”
Maybe not if they keep scoring 70 points a game, and considering that in three of the last five games they’ve hit 70 twice and 69 once there’s no reason to think that’s an unrealistic goal, especially in the Big 12.
“Not every Big 12 game is like this,” Holgorsen said. “Not every Big 12 offense is like this. It was a situation where both offenses were playing at a pretty high level. It’s going to be fast-paced and a lot of good offenses. That’s just the way it is.
“I’ve been in this league 10 years now. It’s the culture of the Big 12, but not everyone is like that. It will be different next week.”
That’s when the Mountaineers play their first Big 12 road game, traveling to Texas, where they can score a lot of points but where defense is king.
But before then the Mountaineers had to take some time to enjoy the fruits of their first Big 12 victory and one that came a lot tougher than it should have.
WVU really had to find a way to hang on late after leading 56-35 late in the third quarter.
Baylor quarterback Nick Florence, who would pass for 581 yards himself, 314 of them to Terrance Williams, who made 17 catches, more than any player had ever caught against the Mountaineers led a comeback so that with 2:30 left in the game WVU was clinging to that 70-63 lead and trying to run out the clock.
On second and 10 Smith threw what he would call a “terrible pass” toward J.D. Woods, who made a spectacular one-handed snare, pulling it out of the air just before it could be intercepted, to save the drive, the game and what now has become a 4-0 season.
“That’s just making a play on the ball,” the senior said. “Like I tell you all, when that ball is in the air it’s my ball, so I ain’t going to let anyone else get it.”
His development has made WVU a different team, joining Bailey and Tavon Austin, who caught 14 passes for 215 yards and two TDs, as a threat.
“J.D. has done a great job. He has stepped up and become a leader. He’s really the leader of the offense right now,” Smith said.
He sort of came out nowhere, sidelined for part of camp as he battled to get himself eligible to play after being overlooked in the past.
“He’s a senior and just hasn’t played much,” Holgorse said. “The light came on for him in camp. I’m proud of J.D. He stayed the course and the light came on. He’s doing a good job in the classroom, doing a good job in the weight room and making plays on the field.”
“The more he emerges as that third guy, the better the offense will get because teams can’t double-team Stedman and Tavon because there’s an extra guy,” Smith said.
Baylor, of course, couldn’t cover anyone. Bailey, moved into the slot on occasion when the team went to five-receiver sets, was matched up with a safety who just couldn’t cover him and he found himself wide open over and over.
And when he wasn’t wide open, Smith was putting the ball exactly on the money and hitting him in stride on TDs that covered 47, 20, 2, 87 and 39 yards.
“That one time in the back of the end zone he was wide open. I guess their guys just forgot about him,” Smith said of one TD. Then on the 87-yard score he noted that it was a “wheel route.”
“He just caught that and flew down the sideline,” Smith said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.