Smith’s efficient outing leads West Virginia past South Florida, 20-6
Published: Friday, October 15, 2010
Updated: Friday, October 15, 2010 01:10
The West Virginia football team has continually counted on quarterback Geno Smith this season.
Thursday against South Florida, some may have even said the sophomore had the Midas touch.
Smith completed 24-for-31 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns to lead West Virginia to a 20-6 win over USF in the Mountaineers' Big East Conference opener in front of a Gold Rush crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"For a sophomore youngster in his sixth start, he is really coming," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "It's going to be a lot of fun around here with him."
WVU opened the game in a no-huddle offense that effectively moved the ball against the Bulls' defense. West Virginia moved the ball 70 yards, but had to settle for a 27-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal to take a 3-0 lead just 4:45 into the game.
After a USF punt, the Mountaineers were again able to drive the ball on the Bulls as wide receiver Brad Starks capped an 80-yard drive with a 31-yard touchdown reception, the junior's fourth touchdown in the past two games.
With WVU jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead – its first double digit lead against USF since 2005 – the Bulls returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to the Mountaineers' 45 yard line.
Kicker Maikon Bonani put USF on the board for the first time with 13:38 remaining with a 36-yard field goal.
Action slowed as the second quarter progressed into a battle for field position, but safety Robert Sands turned the momentum in the Mountaineers favor as he intercepted a B.J. Daniels pass with 40 seconds remaining.
Sands returned the interception 28 yards to the Bulls' 7-yard line.
"I just kept my eyes on the receiver, and he broke off his vertical route," Sands said. "I just wanted to catch the ball this time – last year against Pitt I dropped the ball."
On the ensuing play, Geno Smith connected with Jock Sanders on a bubble screen, who then found Noel Devine on a hook and ladder play for a 11-yard WVU touchdown and a 17-3 halftime lead.
"As the flow of the game went, we tried a lot of screen plays," said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "It seemed like the perfect time to call that play."
USF began to move the ball after halftime as running back Moise Plancher, who finished with a game-high 67 yards rushing, continually pounded the ball into WVU's defensive front.
The Bulls' first drive of the third quarter stalled at the Mountaineers' 30-yard line, though, where Bonani delivered his second field goal of the game from 47 yards, cutting West Virginia's lead to 17-6.
Power back Ryan Clarke's services were called upon in WVU's first possession of the third quarter as he picked up 19 yards on five carries in the drive. WVU capped the 14-play, 66-yard drive with a 24-yard Bitancurt field goal, extending the Mountaineers' lead to 20-6.
On the scoring drive, the Mountaineers bled 6:50 off of the game clock.
"When we came down in the third quarter and took control of the clock, that was a big, big drive," Stewart said.
With USF eyeing a comeback attempt, West Virginia's defense suffocated the Bulls' offense to finish off the game.
The Mountaineers allowed just 59 total yards in the fourth quarter and intercepted Daniels twice more to close out the game.
"If we score 20 or more points, I mark that down as a victory in our book," said WVU receiver Jock Sanders in praise of the defense. "They played their (butts) off."
Tavon Austin led the Mountaineers' offense with five receptions for 47 yards while Sanders finished with 10 receptions.
Daniels finished 14-for-33 passing for 63 yards while picking up just four yards rushing.