MORGANTOWN, W.VA - If there was any question whether the Mountaineers offense could keep up the momentum from a stellar Orange Bowl performance of last season, those thoughts have been erased.
In a nearly perfect display of offensive firepower, the Mountaineers ignited the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday in Morgantown, racking up 655 total yards and 10 touchdowns in a 69-34 thumping of the in-state rival.
The Mountaineers opened the game with a quick defensive stop against the Herd, debuting the new 3-4 defensive scheme under Co-Coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. The squad held firm on the Herd's first drive, sending Marshall's opening series to a screeching halt at the West Virginia 45 yard line.
The hype of year two under Dana Holgorsen's offense came to fruition early and often, as the Mountaineers opened up the contest with a string of drives highlighted by over-powering offense.
Quarterback Geno Smith connected with Stedman Bailey for a quick 32 yard strike, putting the Mountaineers up early 6-0. Following a three-and-out for the Herd, West Virginia, once again, struck quickly on the back of Alston. The senior, who racked up 48 yards on seven carries in the first two drives, punched the ball in from three yards out to extend the Mountaineers' lead.
Led by the effort of Alston, the Mountaineers, on the first two drives, had more rushing yards than it did in the entire 2011 contest.
Another three and out by the Mountaineers' defense put the ball back into Smith's hands, as the quarterback led his offense on a nine play, 39 yard drive deep into the red zone. The Herd defense, however, highlighted by the performance of safety Dominick LeGrande, kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone, stopping Smith on a fourth down QB sneak at the two yard line.
The goal line stand sparked a shift in momentum towards the Herd, as sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato led Marshall on a 98 yard scoring drive, capped off by a four yard touchdown by Travon Van.
The Mountaineers quickly answered back, however. Led by sophomore running back Andrew Buie and senior wideout J.D. Woods, the Mountaineers capped off a five play, 68 yard drive in 1:45, with a 24 yard touchdown by Buie, putting the Mountaineers up 20-7.
Following a Marshall field goal, the Mountaineers continued their offensive dominance quickly, with a three play, 83 yard touchdown series in a mere 44 seconds, with Tavon Austin accounting for all offense, extending the Mountaineers' lead 27-10.
After giving up two straight scoring drives to the Herd, the Mountaineers' defense regained its composure shortly before halftime, holding the Herd in an extended drive. Marshall, in an effort to gain some more offensive momentum of their own, attempted a risky fourth down attempt. The play, which was later negated by a penalty, was broken from the beginning by the Mountaineer defense, forcing pressure on Cato and putting the ball back in the offense's hands with a little over 2:00 remaining in the half.
It took only 1:44, however, for the Mountaineers' offense to score, closing out the half with an impressive nine yard touchdown catch by Woods. The Mountaineers entered halftime leading the Herd 34-10, backed up by 413 yards of total offense.
The Mountaineers picked up where they left off coming out of the locker room, scoring quickly on a seven play, 64 yard drive, capped off by a powerful 21 yard run by Alston, extending West Virginia's lead 41-10.
West Virginia's defense held firm on Marshall's first offensive series, holding the Herd to a three-and-out.
When the Mountaineers' offense returned to the field, fans saw something they have not witnessed all day - a punt. Corey Smith's first punt attempt on the day, however, was blocked by Marshall and recovered by Marshall at the West Virginia nine yard line. Two plays later, the Herd's Van punched the ball in the end zone, putting the Herd at 17 points on the afternoon.
Despite the blocked punt, West Virginia's previous drive produced possibly the highlight of the afternoon. As Smith scrambled on a broken play, a Herd defender was blindsided by Andrew Buie in what could be one of the biggest hit reactions in the history of Mountaineer Field.
West Virginia did not fret long on the blocked punt, driving the ball 77 yards in nine plays into the end zone. The drive was capped off by a 27 yard touchdown run by Smith, who scrambled for the score following a broken play. Smith took the snap, turned to hand the ball off to Buie, but the running back was not there. The senior quarterback, with great presence of mind, tucked the botched snap and ran up the gut for another Mountaineers' score.
While the Mountaineers' offense earned all the love through the third quarter, the defense decided it was time to make its mark on the Friends of Coal Bowl. Terrance Garvin stripped the ball from Cato, which was picked up by Isaiah Bruce and returned 43 yards for another West Virginia touchdown.
Marshall showcased its offensive potential with a number of big plays in the following series. However, the Herd's drive was hampered by a slew of penalties and thus stalled. The Herd tacked on a field goal for good measure, making the score 55-20 as the third quarter expired.
Despite the lopsided score, the Herd showed flashes of offensive brilliance throughout the day. However, a number of untimely penalties and offensive miscues hurt Marshall throughout the contest.
Once again, the Mountaineers took no sympathy to Marshall's plight today as Smith came out throwing to begin the fourth quarter. A deep strike to Ivan McCartney set up a five yard Bailey touchdown reception, extending the Mountaineers' lead 62-20.
Linebacker Doug Rigg made his mark on the game in Marshall's next drive, intercepting a Cato pass and returning it to Marshall's three yard line. On the next play, Paul Millard, in his first appearance of the season, tossed a quick corner strike to K.J. Myers for the receiver's first career touchdown.
Sophomore Marshall receiver Tommy Shuler added another Herd touchdown about midway through the fourth quarter, and added another touchdown with an 11 yard pass to Frohnapfel to end the game.
Final score - West Virginia 69, Marshall 34.
The Mountaineers finished the game with an unprecedented yards of total offense. Quarterback Geno Smith opened up a potential Heisman campaign, going 33 for 37, 334 yards and 3 touchdowns, with another on the ground to boot. Running back Shawne Alston led the way for the Mountaineers on the ground accounting for 123 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.
The Mountaineers are idle next week before traveling to FedEx Field in Hannover, Md. on Saturday, September 15 to take on the James Madison Dukes. Game time is 4:30pm.