Rutgers, WVU grab early momentum in Big East

CHARLESTON, W.VA. (AP) - The gaudy passing numbers by West Virginia show that athletic director Oliver Luck’s hiring of Dana Holgorsen is paying off.

With the rise of Geno Smith as one of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks, No. 13 West Virginia is well ahead of Luck’s early hunch that Holgorsen’s offense would need a year or so to take root.

It’s rooted, all right.

The Mountaineers, along with surprising Rutgers, are setting the early pace in an unpredictable Big East that’s already seen some head-turning results. They’ll soon be joined by the winner of this week’s matchup between host Cincinnati and Louisville as the only remaining teams without a loss in conference play.

“I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at right now,” Holgorsen said. “We’re getting better every week. I’ve said it for a while, the only way we’re going to win the championship is if all three sides of the ball are improving every week. Coaches, players, everybody’s bought in.”

In 2010, 523 yards of offense was a season high under former coach Bill Stewart.

With Holgorsen, it’s a normal day’s work.

West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) is scoring in bunches, just as Holgorsen’s teams did before he was lured away from Oklahoma State. A lack of offensive production was one reason Holgorsen was hired as offensive coordinator last December. He was elevated to head coach after Stewart was forced out in June.

West Virginia has surpassed 43 points or more three times this season. It scored 40 only twice in Stewart’s three seasons.

Smith is third nationally with 2,159 passing yards and tied for sixth with 16 touchdown passes. Stedman Bailey has four straight 100-yard receiving games and teammates Ivan McCartney and Tavon Austin also are getting plenty of catches.

Holgorsen will be pressed to keep up the pace in a challenging second-half schedule in West Virginia’s quest to return to its first BCS bowl since 2007. West Virginia returns to play four of its final six conference games on the road against teams with a combined 21-11 record.

One overriding issue has been the offense’s inability to start fast. The Mountaineers have fallen behind early in all but one game and they even trailed FCS Norfolk State at halftime.

They’ve always responded with a spark, usually from Smith. On Saturday, West Virginia led Connecticut 10-9 at halftime before scoring 33 unanswered points. Smith finished with 450 passing yards and four touchdowns.

“The fact that we’re good in spurts is better than the alternative, I guess,” Holgorsen said. “There’s going to be adversity, which we’ve faced … and we’ve overcame it and we’ve moved on.”

The Mountaineers have a week off before traveling to Syracuse on Oct. 21. Holgorsen doesn’t believe his team’s challenges will be any different. West Virginia built a 24-point lead in its only road game at Maryland before holding on for a 37-31 win.

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