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Geno Smith's career day boosts Mountaineers to share of Big East

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia (No. 24 BCS, No. 23 AP) dismantled Rutgers, then came the difficult part -- an hours-long wait to see if the Mountaineers could secure a third Bowl Championship Series berth in six seasons that seemed almost impossible only a few weeks ago.

Geno Smith threw for a career-high 352 yards, Ryan Clarke had three short touchdown runs and No. 23 West Virginia overcame turnover problems to beat the Scarlet Knights 35-14 on Saturday and clinch at least a share of the Big East title.

West Virginia's players exchanged handshakes and hugs afterward, but the celebration was brief. With the home crowd leaving the stadium shouting "USF! USF!", the Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) were awaiting the outcome of the Connecticut-South Florida game later Saturday that would determine the conference's automatic BCS representative.

Connecticut would earn the berth with a win and hand it to West Virginia with a loss.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart hinted that he'd be near his TV set with his wife and teenage son.

"I'm going to put the sweats on and I'll probably hunker down in the family room," Stewart said. "It's going to be a Stewart family night."

It marked the fifth shared or outright Big East title for the Mountaineers since 2003. Pittsburgh also clinched a share of the title with its 28-10 win over Cincinnati on Saturday.

West Virginia's title hopes appeared dim after back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut. Two straight losses by Pittsburgh, including one to West Virginia a week ago, put the Mountaineers back in contention and they finished the regular season with four straight wins.

On a day that West Virginia honored its 20 seniors in their final home game, it was the younger players doing much of the work.

Smith completed 23 of 28 passes, including 11 straight at one point. Fellow sophomore Tavon Austin caught six passes for 121 yards, catching a TD pass and running for another score. Julian Miller registered half of West Virginia's six sacks.

"It's my first Big East championship, so it feels good," Austin said. "I'm having a good day."

Smith now has 2,567 passing yards and 22 TDs this season. Both are the second most in school history behind Marc Bulger's 3,607 yards and 31 TDs in 1998.

"We've got a sophomore quarterback that's going to be phenomenal," Stewart said.

West Virginia compiled a season-high 523 yards of offense, but miscues bit the Mountaineers in the subfreezing conditions. West Virginia fumbled the ball away three times inside the Rutgers 15, and their final drive of the first half ended in a blocked field goal.

"I hate turnovers," Stewart said. "It just kills your football team. But we had enough resolve to come back."

Two plays after West Virginia's Jock Sanders fumbled in the first quarter, Mountaineers linebacker J.T. Thomas picked up Jordan Thomas's fumble and returned it to the Rutgers 9. Clarke then made amends for an earlier fumble, bouncing off a pile and stumbling into the end zone for the first of his two 1-yard scores.

Clarke also had a 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter for a 35-7 lead.

Smith took a shot to the ribs from Rutgers' Michael Larrow after attempting a pass with 3:52 left in the third quarter. He came out for one play, then found tight end Will Johnson on a short pass that turned into a 37-yard gain to the Rutgers 11. Two plays later, Smith fumbled just before he crossed the goal line and Rutgers recovered.

West Virginia got the ball back at midfield, and Austin, who also had a 19-yard TD catch in the first quarter, took a handoff up the middle on second down and went 46 yards untouched into the end zone for a 28-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Except for Austin's run, West Virginia's ground game struggled against the Big East's worst rushing defense. Noel Devine, who's been hampered by toe and ankle injuries, was limited to 31 yards on 13 carries, his fifth straight game under 100 yards.

Chas Dodd threw two TD passes for Rutgers (4-8, 1-6), which lost its sixth straight overall and its 16th straight to West Virginia. Rutgers managed just 203 total yards, with 44 of them coming on Dodd's TD toss to Mark Harrison in the fourth quarter.

"I know we're a good team," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "We're just not playing or executing well enough. It is building on this game? No. It's building on a program that's established and has had a bad year. We'll put this one in the books and move forward."