Jeffrey Reynolds Sports Editor
September 23, 2012
The Associated Press
MORGANTOWN — Geno Smith threw three touchdown passes to Tavon Austin and No. 8 West Virginia outlasted Maryland 31-21 on Saturday.
Doug Rigg returned a fumble 51 yards for West Virginia (3-0) and Austin had another remarkable game against his home-state Terrapins. The Baltimore native caught 13 passes for 179 yards and set a school record for career receptions.
Despite scoring two early touchdowns, West Virginia looked flat at times on offense, after averaging 56 points and 612 yards in its first two games against non-BCS conference opponents. Smith often threw into tough coverage and had as many incompletions in the first half (nine) as he did in the first two games combined. He finished 30 of 43 for 338 yards.
The Mountaineers punted on four of their first five possessions of the second half but wouldn’t let Maryland cut into a double-digit lead.
Leading rusher Shawne Alston playing sparingly with a thigh bruise and West Virginia was limited to 25 yards on the ground.
Smith spent a lot of time getting knocked on his backside. But he found a groove just before halftime, throwing for 64 yards on a drive capped by a 24-yard pass to Austin alone in the end zone for a 24-14 lead.
Maryland freshman Perry Hills threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, two to freshman Stefon Diggs.
Hills had some success moving the Maryland offense with misdirection plays and screen passes. Maryland (2-2) had more yards at halftime (212) than it did all of last week in a home loss to Connecticut.
But Hills had little luck after halftime. With Maryland facing fourth-and-21 from its 32 with four minutes left in the game, Hills was intercepted by Wes Tonkery at the West Virginia 28 and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
The game was billed as a matchup of all-purpose talent, and Austin and Diggs didn’t disappoint.
Austin now has 208 career receptions, breaking the mark of 206 set by Jock Sanders from 2007-10. In three games against Maryland, he had 31 catches for 407 yards.
Diggs had a 42-yard scoring catch in the first quarter and a 56-yarder midway through the fourth. He caught three passes for 113 yards and had 63 yards on kick returns and 25 yards on punt returns.
On Maryland’s second series of the game, West Virginia linebacker Darwin Cook slipped through the middle of the line unblocked and knocked the ball from Hills. Rigg scooped up the loose ball and went for West Virginia’s second defensive touchdown of the season.
It was a role reversal of the key play of January’s Orange Bowl, when Rigg forced a fumble that Cook returned for a TD — and famously knocked over the Orange Bowl mascot — in a rout of Clemson.
Late in the first quarter, Austin caught a pass up the middle, bounced off a defender and went 44 yards up the right sideline to put the Mountaineers ahead 14-0. Austin added a 24-yard TD catch in the second quarter and capped West Virginia’s scoring with a 34-yard reception midway through the fourth.