By John Raby
AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) 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 Rutgers 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. The Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) were awaiting the outcome of the Connecticut-South Florida game later Saturday that would determine the conference’s BCS representative.
Connecticut would earn the berth with a win and hand it to West Virginia with a loss.
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.
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.
Chas Dodd threw two TD passes for Rutgers (4-8, 1-6), which lost its sixth straight game.
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.
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.
Rutgers managed just 203 total yards, with 44 of them coming on Dodd’s TD toss to Mark Harrison in the fourth quarter.
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