PoG: WVU - Pitt

Tavon Austin

Somehow, the same West Virginia offense that had struggled all season to generate anything in the second halves of games was downright dominant in the final 30 minutes of the Backyard Brawl. And in a rivalry that's normally all about physical football, it was one of the smallest Brawlers who made one of the biggest impacts.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

  • Tavon Austin.

    WVU head coach Bill Stewart all but admitted afterwards that he felt like his team was lucky to be up 14-7 at halftime.

    That advantage was largely the result of Pitt turnovers, as a fumble and a pick each gave the Mountaineers a short field on both of the visitors' touchdown drives in the opening 30 minutes.

    If those Pitt miscues left the door open, Austin kicked it down in the third quarter.

    On the third play of the second half, quarterback Geno Smith connected with Austin for a 71-yard touchdown. For good measure, the sophomore receiver added a 12-yard scoring grab later in the period that made it 28-10 and all but sealed the outcome.

    The Baltimore, Md., native added another 12 yards on his only carry. Showing his explosiveness, Austin needed to touch the football only three times to total 95 yards of offense and two touchdowns.

    He helped turn a Brawl that looked destined for another close finish into an unexpected rout in the second half.

    DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

  • Brandon Hogan.

    Sure, Hogan got burnt a time or two big Pitt's top receiver, Jon Baldwin. But the cornerback's overall effort was a big reason why the Mountaineer defense -- though it bent often -- never truly broke.



    Brandon Hogan
    Hogan set the tone early, intercepting Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri's fifth pass of the game and returning it down the sideline all the way to the Panthers' 2-yard line, setting up an easy touchdown for Ryan Clarke (more on him in a bit) in the first two minutes of the contest.

    He wasn't done. The senior added six total tackles (five of them solo) a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an additional pass break-up.

    Against one of the top receivers in all of college football, that's not a bad day at all.

    While West Virginia's defense did surrender a few more yards and third down conversions than it typically does, it seemingly always made big plays to stop Pitt drives. Hogan made several of those, and thus, he earned our top billing for the defense.

    GAME BALLS:

  • Anthony Leonard.

    The surprise story of the WVU defense continued to perform at a high level in perhaps the biggest game of his senior season.

    Leonard was extremely active in the middle of the field, working to slow down Pitt's dynamic rushing duo of Dion Lewis and Ray Graham (who combined for only 55 yards on 21 carries) and making plays to limit the ability of Tino Sunseri to work the passing game in the middle of the field.

    The middle linebacker from McKeesport, Pa., (just outside of Pittsburgh) had a banner day with five total tackles, two pass break-ups and a quarterback hurry.

    Leonard perhaps could have had an interception of Sunseri on one of those two PBUs, but didn't quite haul the football in. But he atoned for the error a few plays later, ending the Pitt drive by getting in between the ball and receiver Mike Shanahan on a fourth-and-3.

    That play came from the WVU 29-yard line and with the Mountaineers holding a 21-7 lead. It kept the Panthers from getting back within one possession and may have had a significant impact on the way the rest of the game played out.

    Leonard's senior season has been stellar. For the western Pennsylvania native, adding a Backyard Brawl win had to be the icing on the proverbial cake.

  • The power running of Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke.

    So much was made of the ability of Pitt's four-man defensive front and the impact it might have on this Backyard Brawl.

    Alston and Clarke (along with an offensive line that had one of its better days of the season) helped to neutralize that advantage by gashing the middle of the Panthers' defense.

    The two ball-carriers held the rock 22 times and netted 99 yards combined. They each averaged well over four yards per carry individually and combined to average 4.5 yards per tote. Clarke added a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs.

    Stewart had promised this week that Alston would be more a part of the offense, and he made good on that vow.

    Alston, a sophomore from Hampton, Va., continued to build on his recent momentum with yet another solid day, gaining 71 tough yards and showing a bit of explosiveness WVU has lacked in its running game for much of the season.

    Clarke was his typical bulldozing self and did the dirty work against a solid Pitt defensive front.

    In combination, the duo helped secure one of the better all-around offensive games for West Virginia this season.

  • Jock Sanders.

    It wasn't the prettiest day early for Sanders, but the slot receiver ultimately made sure he would remember the day he broke WVU's all-time career receptions record for all the right reasons.

    The senior caught four passes for 70 yards in moving past David Saunders on that all-time list, including a 38-yard catch-and-run to convert a third-and-12 on the Mountaineers' last scoring drive.

    For good measure, he slipped a few Panther tackle attempts and gained 13 more yards on a third-and-7 from Pitt's 15-yard line, setting up Clarke's 2-yard plunge that made it 35-10.

    While times have occasionally been rocky for the West Virginia offense in Sanders' senior year, days like Friday have to feel like vindication for the decision the St. Petersburg, Fla., native made to return to Morgantown for his final year of eligibility.

    Sanders will likely never forget that the day he broke such a significant record was the day WVU scored a win over its biggest rival.

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