If there was any doubt entering Saturday that West Virginia's Big 12 debut against Baylor would not be special, those grievances were quickly erased. On the back of a 656 yard, eight touchdown performance by Geno Smith, the Mountaineers topped the Bears in its conference debut by a staggering 70-63 final score.
Although the matchup has been pegged as a potential offensive explosion, the Mountaineers struck first on defense, with an impressive interception off a tip by Darwin Cook. The Mountaineers' defense was aided in this interception by a strong blitz from Isaiah Bruce, rushing the pass of Baylor quarterback Nick Florence.
The Mountaineers, however, were unable to turn the interception into points, as the Bears stopped West Virginia's drive around the 35 yard line. The series ended with a missed 50 yard field goal attempt by Tyler Bitancurt.
Offensively, the Bears were able to get it going on their second possession, with a short touchdown run from Jarred Salubi. Baylor's success in the drive was aided by a 49 yard reception by receiver Terrance Williams, who took the ball deep into West Virginia territory, where the Bears finished the job.
Baylor's lead was short lived, as the Mountaineers found their offensive mojo the following drive. A series of short passes, aided by excellent decision making from Smith, including a key scramble, led to a short Andrew Buie touchdown run.
After opening the game with two-straight series producing no points, the Bears and Mountaineers quickly picked up their offensive showcase. The Bears marched down the field quickly, aided by a West Virginia personal foul on the kickoff, ending the nine play drive with a seven yard Glasco Martin touchdown run.
Not to be outdone, the Mountaineers put together an impress drive of its own, going 60 yards in six plays and ending with a seven yard touchdown reception by J.D. Woods. The Mountaineers looked to control the tempo throughout the drive, led by yet another impressive string of passes from Smith, including a "needle-threading" strike to Tavon Austin, putting the Mountaineers into Bears territory.
When the first quarter came to a close, the highly-anticipated offensive showdown lived up to expectations. Between Florence and Smith, the quarterbacks accounted for a mere two incompletions. Efficiency at its finest in the matchup of air raid attacks.
The offensive train, however, slowed down somewhat as the Mountaineers held the Bears to a wide left field goal attempt. Despite being burned throughout much of the day, and all over the field, the defense held in the red zone, thanks in part to a key Will Clarke sack on third down.
Baylor's defense did not lie down after the missed field goal, quacking stopping the Mountaineers in the shadow of their own goal line. A 45 yard Corey Smith punt was subsequently returned 45 yards by Levin Norwood, giving the Bears favorable field position starting the drive.
The Bears were able to take full advantage of the field position, punching the ball in the end zone on a short four play, 23 yard drive. The series was highlighted by a third and long reception by Baylor's Williams. The senior wideout would fool West Virginia's Pat Miller to get open and place his squad on the one yard line, where Martin would convert for the score.
The game, at this point, appeared to be a battle of yards-after-reception, with both teams dominating their opposing defenses utilizing a mix of short tosses. The Mountaineers would quickly change this fact halfway through the second quarter with a 47 yard vertical bomb from Smith to Stedman Bailey for the touchdown. The reception would even out the score yet again 21-21.
Not to be outdone, the Bears struck quickly with a deep 65 yard pass to Tevin Reese for the touchdown. The Bears attacked West Virginia's defensive secondary, yet again, through the air for the strike, putting Baylor up again 28-21, with over six minutes left in the half.
Not surprisingly, the Mountaineers would answer quickly. It took West Virginia a mere 1:20 to answer on the consecutive drive, ending a five play, 59 yard series with a 20 yard touchdown strike to Bailey, tying the game at 28.
The defensive nightmare ended on Baylor's last series of the half, with the Mountaineers defense getting its first stop in nearly a quarter against the Bears, highlighted by a huge third down sack by multiple West Virginia defenders.
The Mountaineers took quick advantage of the extra offensive possession, moving the ball down the field 87 yards in eight plays for a touchdown to close out the half. A 45 yard gain by Austin off a broken screen play pushed the Mountaineers deep into Baylor territory, leading the way for a short 2 yard touchdown reception by Bailey.
With his last touchdown reception in the second half, Bailey would break Cedric Thomas' record for career touchdowns, pushing his career total to 24.
While most believed Bailey's final touchdown of the half would close out the contest, Baylor was quick to discount the theory. Florence, on a scramble, would target receiver Lanear Sampson for a 67 yard touchdown reception, capping off a 65 yard, 25 second drive, sending the teams into the locker room tied at 35.
At halftime the numbers were staggering. In an effort to boost his Heisman candidacy, Smith completed 26 of 28 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns. The Mountaineers entered the half with 373 total yards of offense, compared to Baylor's 338.
It did not take the Mountaineers long to regain their offensive rhythm, taking the opening possession of the second half 75 yards for a 45 yard touchdown reception by Austin. The reception gave Austin his first touchdown of the day, as the Mountaineer offense continued to spread around the wealth. The score put West Virginia on top yet again, 41-35.
The Mountaineer defense finally stepped up on Baylor's first drive of the half, when a Florence completion to Williams was jarred loose by Cook. The pass, however, was ruled incomplete by officials, forcing Baylor into a three-and-out punting situation.
When the Mountaineers reclaimed the ball on offense, it did not take too long for typical offensive results. On the second play of the drive, Austin went down with what appeared to be a leg cramp. Four plays later, Austin was back in the game, making his mark again in a big way.
The senior receiver took a 52 yard reception to the house, extending West Virginia's lead 42-35. The reception also put Austin over 200 yards receiving on the day, putting him at 204 yards, six minutes into the third quarter.
West Virginia, once again, showed success in their defensive adjustments coming out of halftime, holding the Bears to yet another missed field goal attempt. The Bears would attack the Mountaineers rather successfully through the air, but could not finish the job once in West Virginia territory.
It was much of the same for the Mountaineers on offense, with Smith leading his unit to yet another scoring drive, extending West Virginia's lead to 21. The six play, 71 yard drive was capped off by a 1 yard touchdown run by Buie. The drive was highlighted, however, by a 47 yard soaring completion to Bailey, putting the Mountaineers deep into the red zone.
Baylor finally rediscovered its offensive grove late in the third quarter as Florence hit Williams for yet another touchdown strike. The Bears put together a quick 1:54 drive, going 94 yards before Williams' 37 yard score.
Following a quick defensive stop, the Bears regained the ball and drove downfield for yet another score. With field position on their side, following a short 31 yard punt by Michael Molinari, Florence led his squad on a 11 play, 63 yard drive, ending with a 1 yard touchdown run by Florence. After being down by 21, the Bears cut the lead to seven entering the fourth quarter.
It took the Mountaineers a single play to answer Baylor, with Smith targeting Bailey for an 87 yard touchdown strike. The reception pushed Bailey's yards for the day to 264, breaking the old single-game mark set by Chris Henry in 2003.
Sounding like a broken record, the Bears marched down the field and answered West Virginia, to the tune of an 11 play, 86 yard drive. Florence completed a seven yard pass to Goodley, bring the score to within seven.
Since trumping Clemson in the Orange Bowl earlier this year 70-33, Mountaineer fans have gotten a lot of mileage off the distinction. On Saturday, the team can chalk up another record-breaking performance.
With a 39 yard touchdown completion to Bailey the Mountaineers once again reached that historic plateau, going up on the Bears 70-56, with under six minutes left in the contest.
But the Bears would not go out quietly, answering the Mountaineers' touchdown with another one of their own. Baylor drove the ball 75 yards in 10 plays to close the game once again to within a touchdown. The drive ended with a familiar sight - Williams catching the eight yard touchdown reception, his second of the game.
Following the touchdown, Baylor would elect to kick the ball through the end zone, rather than attempting an onside kick. This proved to be ineffective, as the Mountaineers would successfully run out the game clock and pull off the victory.
Final score: West Virginia 70, Baylor 63.
With such a high scoring contest at hand, it is not surprising that offensive numbers were through the roof. The Mountaineers finished the contest with 807 total yards of offense, which along with Baylor's equally impressive offensive output of 700 yards shattered all expectations.
Quarterback Geno Smith continued to boost his Heisman hopes with a staggering 656 yards passing on 45 of 51 attempts and eight touchdowns.
It was a day of records for Smith as well, breaking the single game passing touchdown mark with eight. The senior also broke the record previously held by Marc Bulger of 14 consecutive completions during the contest, and a record for completions in a single game, 45.
The receiver duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey also had a record setting game, accounting for 518 yards and seven touchdowns combined (Austin: 14 catches, 215 yards, two touchdowns. Bailey 13 catches, 303 yards, five touchdowns). The duo remain tied atop the list of 100 yard receiving games with 10 a piece.
Bailey also continued to rewrite the record books, breaking Chris Henry's single game receiving yards record with a 303 yard performance. Bailey also moved atop the list of career touchdown receptions with 26.
In addition, Bailey broke Austin's previous touchdown reception record, with five in today's matchup.
The Mountaineers will make its first Big 12 road trip next week as they travel to Austin, Tx. Saturday night to take on the Texas Longhorns. Game time is 7pm.