PoG: WVU - Rutgers

It's hard to not give our top honors to Geno Smith. After all, the West Virginia quarterback threw for more yards in Saturday's 35-14 win over Rutgers than any Mountaineer signal-caller has since Marc Bulger fired for more than 400 in the 1998 Insight.com Bowl. But one of Smith's receivers, to be fair, stole the show.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Tavon Austin.

While Smith's numbers may have been slightly more significant milestones, Austin's weren't anything to sneeze at. His 121 receiving yards were the most for any WVU pass-catcher since Darius Reynaud went for 134 in a game at Marshall in 2007.

But the statistics don't do Austin's game justice.

The sophomore from Baltimore is absolutely electrifying to watch, capable of turning the smallest of gaps into the largest of gains.

He showed that by going for a 43-yard reception and by adding a 46-yard touchdown run in the second half. The run, particularly, showed Austin's exceptional burst, as he flew through the middle of the RU defense and simply outpaced everyone in white for the score.

Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart said after his team's 35-10 victory over Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl last week that Austin was likely to stay at receiver next year, even as star running back Noel Devine just played his last home game at WVU Saturday.

Stewart was right when he said Austin is "just too valuable as a little waterbug out there." Games like this one showed that to be the case.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Anthony Leonard.

The surprise story of the season for WVU had another solid day, even if it wasn't statistically spectacular. But as part of a defense that isn't as much about flash as it is about brute force and finding ways to dominate, it fit the part just fine.

Leonard "only" had four total tackles, and three of those were assisted efforts. He was credited with one tackle for loss, backing up Rutgers' offense by three yards.

But the box score simply can't show the impact the senior linebacker from McKeesport, Pa., had on this -- and really almost every -- game.



Anthony Leonard
Simply put, Leonard has been the definition of "assignment sound." The job of a middle linebacker is to be a de facto "quarterback" of the defense, and Leonard fits that role perfectly.

He's always in the right place, around the line of scrimmage on run plays and completing his responsibilities in pass coverage as well.

Few could have seen a season like this coming from Leonard, who backed up former star Reed Williams in past seasons and wasn't even expected to start at middle linebacker in preseason camp.

But when Pat Lazear's senior year changed forever with an injury in practice, Leonard showed what he was capable of. He's been nothing short of magnificent this season, and his Senior Day performance epitomized his never-flashy, always-effective style.

GAME BALLS:

  • Geno Smith.

    As we said earlier, Smith had a day few Mountaineer quarterbacks have ever experienced. He threw for 352 yards, the 11th-most passing yards by a WVU signal-caller in school history.

    That's impressive enough, as no West Virginia quarterback had thrown for that many yards in more than a decade.

    But it was the way the sophomore (and that merits repeating -- Smith is only a sophomore) did it that truly made the day special.

    As those who are paid to evaluate passers before the NFL Draft often say, Smith made "all the throws." He fired deep, across the field and short. He threw accurately to receivers running screens and posts and curls. He worked through his progressions when he had time and got rid of the ball when he had to.

    Smith hit nine different receivers, a sign that he has avoided the temptation some quarterbacks have to look only to their "favorite" pass-catchers. As a result, he never threw a pass that Rutgers defenders had a serious chance to intercept.

    Bill Stewart rightly pointed out that the sky is truly the limit for Smith in the next two seasons. But in his first year as the full-time starter at quarterback, the Miami, Fla., native can claim a Big East title. That's not a bad starting point.

  • J.T. Thomas.

    The senior stalwart at linebacker had a banner day in his last outing at Mountaineer Field. Thomas had seven total tackles, the second-best total on the team Saturday.

    He added one of the more important plays of the game, forcing and recovering a first quarter fumble from Rutgers' Jordan Thomas just two plays after WVU slot receiver Jock Sanders had fumbled away the ball inside the Scarlet Knights' 20-yard line.

    Sanders' fumble was already the Mountaineers' second turnover in scoring position in the first quarter. Holding only a 7-0 lead at the time, a big play from RU could have made things more interesting.

    Instead, Thomas had the presence of mind to rip the ball out of the Rutgers running back's grasp even though it looked as though his progress had been stopped for several seconds. That set up a West Virginia touchdown three plays later, and the rout was on.

    It was a fitting ending to a solid career for the linebacker, who provided what will be the most enduring image of this year's Senior Day festivities when he walked out of the tunnel wearing the No. 41 jersey his father donned as a Mountaineer in the 1990s.

  • Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin and the WVU pass-rush.

    Sure, Rutgers had shown an exceptional propensity to give up sacks this season. At the end of it all, the Scarlet Knights yielded 61 sacks in 2010 -- the most any FBS team has given up in the last five years.

    But West Virginia's pass rushers did the job once again. They totaled six sacks on Saturday, making life hellish for RU signal-caller Chas Dodd all afternoon long.

    Miller, a junior defensive lineman, collected three of those sacks. Irvin, the team's pass rushing specialist, added two more. Defensive tackle Scooter Berry added the other.

    As they have all year long, the Mountaineer rushers made things almost impossible for their opponents on third down. Rutgers converted on only two of its 11 third down opportunities, a statistic that was almost lost in the crush of all the other impressive numbers.

    That's a big reason Rutgers, like WVU's first 11 opponents of the season, failed to get past 21 points.

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