WVU Scorches Herd
MORGANTOWN – Whether it’s the Orange Bowl or playing at home, No. 11 West Virginia is comfortable with scoring a point a minute.
Geno Smith threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers to a 69-34 victory against Marshall on Saturday in the Mountaineers’ highest-scoring opener.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will have plenty of things to tweak after the opener. Just not his quarterback’s play.
Smith kept the momentum going from his six-TD performance from the Orange Bowl, when West Virginia beat Clemson 70-33.
The senior completed 32 of 36 passes without an interception and set a school record for career completions and touchdown passes before sitting out most of the fourth quarter.
“Really pleased with how Geno played,” Holgorsen said. “He’s done a great job of taking care of the ball, a great job of leading the team.”
In the final scheduled game between the state’s only Bowl Subdivision teams, West Virginia’s points surpassed a 66-22 win over Richmond to start the 1958 opener.
The 103 total points easily were the most since the series with Marshall resumed in 2006.
The Mountaineers totaled 655 yards, more than any game last year, and got the production they sought from their running game.
“It’s about as balanced as you can possible be,” Holgorsen said. “We spread the ball around to a lot of people.”
Shawne Alston ran for 123 yards and two scores. The Mountaineers compiled 331 yards on the ground against a Marshall defense that limited WVU to 42 a year ago.
“They weren’t one-dimensional at all,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “They were able to run it. They were able to throw it. Unfortunately we didn’t get them in the punt formation enough.”
Smith had TD tosses of 32 and 5 yards to Stedman Bailey, 6 yards to Tavon Austin and 9 yards to J.D. Woods.
Bailey caught nine passes for 104 yards and Austin had 10 catches. His touchdown grab was set up by a 70-yard run around left end.
Smith now has 651 career completions and 60 TD passes. Marc Bulger held the old school marks of 630 completions and 59 TDs set from 1996-99.
Entering the second year of Holgorsen’s system, “we understand our offense a lot better and we’re more comfortable,” Smith said. “We trust in one another and we know if we do that we can score and put up points.”
But few people could have anticipated the back-to-back games the Mountaineers have had. With an offense that returned virtually intact from the Orange Bowl, West Virginia ran 101 offensive plays Saturday, had six scoring drives of less than two minutes and held a nearly six-minute advantage in possession time.
Things went so well for the Mountaineers that Smith scored on a 28-yard run on a busted play late in the third quarter.
And West Virginia’s defense got in on the fun. On the next series, Terence Garvin stripped Marshall’s Rakeem Cato. Isaiah Bruce picked up the loose ball and went 43 yards for a score and a 55-17 lead.
Doug Rigg’s 46-yard interception return early in the fourth set up backup Paul Millard’s 3-yard TD toss to K.J. Myers for West Virginia’s final points.
But West Virginia’s retooled defense showed it has plenty of work after allowing 545 yards to Marshall, including a 98-yard drive early that included three third-down conversions. Marshall converted 6 of 11 of those before halftime.
Joe DeForest, West Virginia’s first-year defensive coordinator, will have two weeks to tweak his new 3-4 scheme. The Mountaineers’ next game is Sept. 15 against FCS James Madison at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
“As far as how many yards we gave up, we’re not going to be too concerned with (it) at this point,” Holgorsen said. “The football got kind of sloppy there in the second half.”
The addition of Boston College transfers LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha at starting safety couldn’t help Marshall’s secondary.
The 236-pound Alston, who came on strong at the end of last season and won the starting job in preseason camp, dragged Marshall tacklers all day. He had 51 yards on West Virginia’s first two series, capping the second one with a 3-yard TD run.
He bounced off five defenders to score on a 21-yard run early in the third quarter.
“I think I’m the baddest dude on the field,” Alston said. “It’s just an attitude that you have to have. Any game that I go into, I just feel that they can’t stop me. I know what I can do on the field and I don’t think that anybody can stop me.”
The smaller Andrew Buie was a solid change of pace, getting 18 and 24 yards on consecutive second-quarter runs, the latter a draw play that went for a touchdown.
Travon Van scored two short rushing touchdowns for Marshall. Rakeem Cato completed 38 of 54 passes for 413 yards but the Thundering Herd couldn’t keep up with West Virginia’s onslaught.
West Virginia scored on four straight possessions after Marshall had closed to 13-7 early in the second quarter.
In one of the few instances where things went wrong on offense, Smith couldn’t score on fourth down from inside the Marshall 5.
“It was me being stupid and stubborn,” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia’s 413 yards of offense in the first half were their most for any half since 2007.