MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Ninety seven years ago, in 1915 - the first time West Virginia played Marshall in Huntington - the Mountaineers dropped 92 points on the Thundering Herd.
Today, the last time these two teams will meet for the foreseeable future, West Virginia did its best to duplicate that feat, disposing of their southern neighbors, 69-33, in front of 59,120 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
West Virginia’s 69 points were the most ever scored by the Mountaineers in a season-opening game, topping the 66 scored against Richmond to begin the 1958 season. Eight different players scored touchdowns for WVU.
“I guess that is about as balanced as you can be,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We spread the ball around to a lot of people.”
West Virginia scored touchdowns on seven of its nine offensive possessions with starting quarterback Geno Smith under center, and had another offensive drive end at the Marshall two when Smith failed to cross the goal line on his fourth down run.
“I should have kicked the field goal there,” Holgorsen said. “That was stubborn and was a bad call on my part.
“It was a terrible call,” he continued. “That was me being stupid and stubborn. We took three points away from that team.”
West Virginia’s other offensive failure resulted in a blocked punt that led to points for Marshall, now winless in 12 tries against West Virginia during this on-again, off-again series that was first played in 1911 in Morgantown.
The game featured more than 1,200 yards, a combined 95 pass attempts, blocked punts, onside kicks, turnovers … you name it. No, it was not a game Woody Hayes disciples would recognize.
But it was an awesome offensive performance on all levels for West Virginia, reminding everyone that last year’s 70 points put up against Clemson in the Orange Bowl is a possibility just about any time the Mountaineers take the field.
Smith competed 32-of-36 passes for 323 yards with four touchdown passes, including two to Stedman Bailey.
“I was really pleased with how Geno played,” said Holgorsen. “He’s obviously a guy who is playing really well over the course of the last two games. He did a great job of taking care of the ball, leading the team and leading the offense.”
J.D. Woods and Tavon Austin also caught touchdown passes, Shawne Alston scored twice on the ground, backup Andrews Buie added a TD run, and Smith also got into the end zone on a 28-yard run when he missed the handoff to Buie, turned around, and discovered that he had a clear path to the goal line.
“You can tell everyone that was a designed quarterback run,” joked Holgorsen.
West Virginia’s defense also got into the scoring act, Isaiah Bruce returning a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown and Doug Rigg returning an interception 46 yards to the Marshall three to set up backup Paul Millard’s TD pass to K.J. Myers – the first touchdown catch of his career.
Alston ran for 123 yards to lead a Mountaineer ground attack that produced 331 yards and had four players with 65 yards or more. It was West Virginia’s best rushing performance in a season-opening game since putting up 478 yards in a 56-23 win over East Carolina in 2004.
“It’s nice to have a guy like Shawne Alston. He’s hard to tackle,” Holgorsen said. “To have a guy like that with a bunch of offensive linemen who can establish the line of scrimmage, obviously I was pleased with that.”
West Virginia finished the game with 655 yards of offense.
“We do want to be run-pass, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent, but that is going to depend upon how we run the ball,” Holgorsen said.
Marshall, too, was able to move the ball for large chunks of yardage against a young, inexperienced West Virginia defense that showed its inexperience at times.
“There are a whole bunch of things we have to work on,” Holgorsen said.
Rakeem Cato completed 38-of-54 passes for 413 yards and two touchdowns - one going to Tommy Schuler and the other going to Eric Frohnapel.
Travon Van added two rushing touchdowns and had 38 yards on the ground as the Herd compiled 545 total yards, an alarming figure considering that Marshall ranked 102nd in the country in total offense last year averaging 333.4 yards per game.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce led all tacklers with 16 stops, while Mountaineer teammate Terence Garvin contributed 12 stops.
“The football kind of got sloppy there in the second half,” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia (1-0) has next weekend off before returning to action on Sept. 15 against James Madison at FedEx Stadium in Landover, Md. There are plenty of tickets available for that game and they can be purchased by logging on to WVUGAME.com.
“What makes this offense pretty good is about having multiple weapons, not just having one or two guys,” said Holgorsen.
Marshall, now 0-1, will open at home next Saturday against Western Carolina.