MORGANTOWN – It was a day where nothing seemed to go as it was supposed to go.
Austin caught 13 passes for 179 yards and three TDs.
West Virginia’s high-powered offense, that had averaged 612 yards per game in two previous starts, sputtered, by previous standards, to 363 yards against a Maryland defense that, to West Virginia’s defense, is pretty darned good.
Geno Smith, he of the nine TDs to nine incompletions ratio entering the game, wasn’t as sharp but was still 30 of 43 for 338 yards and three TDs. A lot of that due to the fact that he was constantly pressured by the Terps top-notch defense, which entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in defense.
And that West Virginia defense everyone is concerned about. Well, it gave more reason for concern, despite gaining three turnovers – including another for a score.
Yes, the cylinders were not turning in sync for the Mountaineers in Saturday’s 31-21 win over Maryland.
No, they were misfiring, except for one Tavon Austin.
The mighty-mite senior out of Baltimore lit up his home state for a third time with what coach Dana Holgorsen called his “best game.”
“He played fast. Thirteen catches, three touchdowns,” Holgorsen said. “That’s pretty special. This is by far his best game. He was the one guy that we had offensively that played his best game. I can’t say that about the rest of them.”
“I’m glad we had him today,” WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “On days like this, when things aren’t going great, you look for your playmakers to make plays. And he stepped up.”
A week after Stedman Bailey set the WVU record for receptions in a game with the lucky 13, Austin promptly matched it, with 13 for 179 yards and those three scores.
Anything you can do, I can do better?
“That’s just how it’s going to go,” Austin said. “Some games they’re going to buckle down on me and I probably won’t have too many catches. And Sted will have a big game. Today was my day and my number was called.”
A native of Baltimore, Austin fishes his career 3-0 against the Terps with 3 100 receiving games.
He has had a career against Maryland, with seven catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns in 2010, 11 receptions for 122 yards last season and then the 13-179-3 stat line Saturday. That’s 31 catches, 407 yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s a wonderful feeling knowing I had 100 yards on them every year,” Austin said. “I just have to thank the offensive line, my receivers and Geno. We believe in each other.”
Austin, a 5-foot-9, 171-pound slot, is now tied with Chris Henry for No. 2 in career TD catches with 22. He is also tied with David Saunders and Stedman Bailey with nine 100- yard receiving games and he is No. 2 on the WVU receiving yards chart with 2,469 yards.
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The big play of the game proved to be Doug Rigg’s fumble recovery and subsequent 51-yard return for a touchdown.
The fumble was caused by Darwin Cook, who came on a safety blitz and got to quarterback Perry Hills before he could hand the ball off to Ross.
“It gave us some momentum on defense and it gave our offensive a little kick start as well, they were pretty excited,” Rigg said. “At the time I didn’t really recognize it, but yeah it was a pretty big play.”
The way Cook sees it, the forced fumble for Rigg was repayment for a nearly nine-month debt.
After all, it was Rigg who forced a fumble in the Orange Bowl and returned 99 yards, running into infamy as he obliterated Obie the Orange (the bowl’s mascot) at the back of the end zone.
“Me and Doug Rigg called a truce,” Cook said. “He caused a turnover and I scored, and now I caused a turnover and he scored. I’m happy about that. He’s not on my back anymore.”
And it kind of made up for the defensive touchdown that got away from Rigg in the Marshall game, when he was brought down by quarterback Rakeem Cato at the 3-yard line.
“We told him that he needed to lateral the ball to someone faster,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said.
The Mountaineers did force three turnovers (two by Cook), which is their goal.
“And if you look at the turnovers we’ve caused, we’ve got two touchdowns and another at the 3- or 4-yard line,” DeForest said. “So, we have really scored or created three scores based on turnovers.”
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As good as Austin was, his numerical twin Stefon Diggs flashed signs that he may be on the verge of becoming the next most electrifying player in college football.
Diggs had three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He returned four punts for 25 yards and three kicks for 63 yards.
And he earned respect.
“Diggs is a tremendous athlete,” DeForest said. “I don’t know if we will face anybody better. The guy’s got a chance to be really special. And you guys saw that.”
“He’s going be really good,” Cook said. He’s got a big frame and he’s got wiggle. I project him to be one of the next great receivers in the coming years.”
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Holgorsen said that Shawne Alston, who did play sparingly in the game, mostly as a blocking back, was limited due to a thigh bruise. He also added that the decision to play Dustin Garrison (2 carries for 1 yard), who has been recovering from a December ACL injury, was not based on Alston’s injury.
“He (Garrison) was ready to play anyway,” Holgorsen said. “He’ll keep getting better. That’s a hard thing to overcome mentally. Just by him being out there is going to help him continue to get stronger and continue to improve.”