The No. 11 Mountaineers ripped their way through Marshall’s defense with staggering regularity, proving the effort against Clemson was no fluke, in what was ultimately a 69-34 victory at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday.
West Virginia did not punt in the first half of the game, ringing up 413 total yards and 34 points by halftime and taking a 34-10 lead into the locker room. Things continued largely unabated in the second half. Combining the performance with that of the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers have scored 139 points in their last two games.
“They are a tough offense to defend,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday, in a statement that may be repeated often by WVU opponents this season, “and we didn’t do a very good job of it today.”
Quarterback Geno Smith did nothing to compromise his status as a Heisman Trophy candidate, completing 19-of-22 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns by halftime. For good measure, he ran in a 28-yard touchdown, turning a broken play into something magical by juking out a Marshall safety on his scamper into the end zone.
He finished 32-of-36 passing for 323 yards and four scores and added another 65 yards and a touchdown on eight carries before heading to the bench in the fourth quarter, yielding to backup Paul Millard. The offense hardly skipped a beat once the switch was made, as Millard’s first throw was a perfect fade pass to K.J. Myers for a short touchdown following a long interception return by WVU linebacker Doug Rigg.
Offensive Player of the Game
“I’m really pleased with how Geno played,” Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s done a great job of leading the team, leading the offense and taking care of the football.”
The team’s 655 yards of offense were 19 shy of a school record (674 vs. Washington & Lee in 1923). Smith claimed the school’s career completions record (631, passing Marc Bulger) and its career touchdown passes mark (60, also besting Bulger).
None of the passing marks were especially surprising. Seeing WVU play with such balance offensively -- 331 yards rushing and 324 passing -- was. Shawne Alston rushed for 123 yards and two scores, while Andrew Buie added another 80 yards.
“It’s about as balanced as you can be, with 300-plus yards in rushing and passing,” Holgorsen said. “We spread the ball around to a lot of people.”
“It’s nice to have a guy like Shawne Alston, who’s hard to tackle. [It’s good] to have a guy like that with a bunch of offensive linemen that are able to establish the line of scrimmage.”
Defensive Player of the Game
16 total tackles
43-yard fumble return TD
While the offense rightly stole the show in the season-opener, there were some problematic areas that will likely receive considerable focus from Mountaineer coaches heading into an off week.
Defense could be a bit of a concern, as Marshall did register 545 yards of its own -- including 413 through the air. Had quarterback Rakeem Cato not missed a wide open Aaron Dobson on multiple occasions, the damage could have been worse.
But on a day where little went wrong, the defense did its best to atone for its errors in the second half. Terence Garvin stripped Cato of the ball and Isaiah Bruce returned it 43 yards for a touchdown that made the score 55-17 with 3:41 left in the third quarter. Rigg followed that up with his interception and return, setting up another score.
“As far as how many yards we gave up, that’s something we’re not going to be too concerned about at this point,” Holgorsen said. “The football got kind of sloppy in the second half.”
Special teams were a bit of an adventure. WVU was not forced to punt in the first half, but when it finally did in the third quarter, Corey Smith’s attempt was easily blocked. Marshall scored two plays later on a short rush by Travon Van to draw within 41-17.
Tyler Bitancurt also missed a point-after kick following the Mountaineers’ first touchdown. No other kicks were problematic, but West Virginia did not attempt a field goal.