MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—Scheduling a nonconference game with Bowling Green was supposed to give No. 22 West Virginia a buffer between a grueling contest against LSU and the start of the Big East schedule.
Instead, the Mountaineers will face a Falcons team on Saturday that features the Mid-American Conference’s highest-scoring offense.
Despite being a heavy favorite, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has told his players to be ready for a fight. The Mountaineers (3-1) can’t relax, considering what’s happened already this season. West Virginia had to come from behind against Marshall and FCS school Norfolk State and nearly let a 24-point lead over Maryland slip away.
Bowling Green (3-1), like many MAC schools, has seen success against BCS foes. The Falcons are 3-6 all time against ranked teams, including a win over Pittsburgh in 2008.
“This is a quality opponent,” Holgorsen said. “This isn’t a fill-in game.”
Bowling Green might be one of the youngest teams in the country with 81 players either freshmen or sophomores. That hasn’t held back the Falcons one bit.
Freshman Anthon Samuel’s school-record 96-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter helped Bowling Green beat Miami (Ohio) 37-23. Samuel is averaging 107 rushing yards per game.
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson doesn’t expect the youthfulness of his team to lead to a locker room full of nerves Saturday.
“It boils down to guys got to go out there and play hard and do their job,” Clawson said. “If they back down in this game, that’s not a great indicator for the rest of our season. This is a great game that you find out a lot about your football team. Guys got to rise up. That’s the only choice they have.”
The third-ever meeting between the schools will showcase two of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks.
Bowling Green sophomore Matt Schilz has thrown for 14 touchdowns, tied for the most in the FBS.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith threw for 463 yards and set three school records in the 47-21 loss last week to LSU. His 1,471 yards are the third most in the nation, behind Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden and Houston’s Case Keenum, the two schools where Holgorsen previously coached.
Those great passing games needs solid receivers, and both teams have plenty of quality targets.
Smith said he had no idea he’d get 65 pass attempts last week against LSU’s tenacious defense. His arm felt fine after a day of rest, and if need be, he’d throw that many again if asked to.
West Virginia is an anomaly of sorts on offense. Twice the Mountaineers have compiled 533 total yards this season, but they’ve only surpassed 100 yards on the ground once.
“Whatever works,” Smith said.
He knows he must fix the mistakes before the Mountaineers open Big East play against Connecticut. One of his two interceptions against LSU caromed off a receiver; the other was tipped and nearly returned by LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu for a score. Smith also had a fumble that led to an LSU touchdown drive.
“I’m trying to play a perfect game,” Smith said. “I know it’s impossible, but that’s what I strive for every game—be a good leader, not turn the ball over and just lead this team to a victory.”