Defense Comes Up Big
By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
October 17, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Chalk one up for the defense. With starting quarterback Jarrett Brown knocked out of the game, West Virginia needed a big effort from its defense to help out freshman quarterback Geno Smith. Well, the defense delivered.
The Mountaineers, sporting a yellow-top-with-white-bottom uniform combination for the first time since 1969, turned away the Thundering Herd at least three times in the red zone, and the West Virginia offense was able to regroup to score three second-half touchdowns to pull out a 24-7 victory in the 2009 Friends of Coal Bowl at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
“Our defensive staff and our defensive players kept us in the game,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
With gray skies and a light mist setting the backdrop to today’s game, West Virginia had to go to plan B when Brown was injured scrambling for a first down when he was sandwiched between Ashton Hall and Brandon Burns, causing the ball to come free at the Thundering Herd 36. Brown was on the ground for several minutes before being helped to the sideline. Later, he was see walking around in a blue hooded jacket.
"I told the football team last night and at halftime the only people that can stop us is us," Stewart added. "We faced adversity also when we lost our starting quarterback. I don't know how long that is going to be for."
Marshall got on the board first when it put together an impressive 16-play drive that resulted in a Brian Anderson 12-yard touchdown run. Anderson faked a pass rolling to his right and then ran against the grain into the end zone untouched. With Craig Ratanamorn’s extra point, Marshall led 7-0.
Marshall had at least two opportunities to add to its lead in the first half, but high snaps, and mistakes took it out of scoring range.
Marshall’s best chance to extend its lead came when Jock Sanders fumbled on a punt return that was scooped up by Marshall’s John Jacobs and returned 18 yards at the WVU 24. Then, three plays later Darius Marshall had the ball stripped at the WVU 7 and the ball was recovered by cornerback Brandon Hogan.
Another opportunity at midfield for Marshall was denied when punter Kase Whitehead attempted a fake punt but was stuffed at the WVU 45. Marshall challenged the spot on the field which was upheld by the replay official.
Hogan made another big play with less than three minutes remaining in the first half when he intercepted Anderson’s pass at the 47 and returned the football to the Marshall 35. A Devine 15-yard run (only West Virginia's second first down of the first half) helped move the ball into position for a 32-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Hogan’s big play extended WVU’s interception streak to 10 games dating back to its 35-21 victory over Louisville on Nov. 21, 2008.
West Virginia began to take control of the game in the second half. After stuffing the Herd on its opening possession West Virginia got to the Marshall 27 where it was presented with a fourth and 10.
Eschewing a 44-yard field goal try, Stewart opted to go for it. Smith, flushed from the pocket and stumbling, regained his balance and fired a pretty 13-yard pass to Sanders working the middle of the field at the Thundering Herd 27 to keep the possession alive - WVU’s first fourth-down conversion of the season. On the next play Devine slipped through a crease and ran 14 yards to give the Mountaineers a 10-7 lead. Devine has run for at least one TD in all six games this year,
"That fourth and 10 play was big," said Stewart.
Marshall’s best chance of the second half to at least tie the game went awry at the WVU 24, when the second botched snap of the drive resulted in a 17-yard loss at the 41.
On third and 33 to begin the fourth quarter Reed Williams forced Cody Slate to fumble at the WVU 27 where J.T. Thomas recovered the ball.
With the box stacked to stop Devine, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen went to the air with Smith, hitting a key 29-yard pass to Wes Lyons on first down that moved the ball to the Marshall 44.
“I was extremely pleased with our aggressive play calling in the second half,” said Stewart. “We had to make them defend the entire field.”
On third and four at the Marshall 38, Smith hit tight end Will Johnson out of the backfield for a crucial five-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Smith’s next pass landed into the arms of Alric Arnett in the back of the end zone. Bitancurt’s PAT made it 17-7, West Virginia.
“We needed to close the door and put the hammer down. At 10-7, I told the defensive staff if we can get it to 17, I don’t think they can beat us,” said Stewart.
The 10-point lead took Darius Marshall out of the game and forced Marshall to go strictly to the air. A pair of three-and-outs set up West Virginia’s last scoring drive of the afternoon – a pretty nine-play, 52-yard drive that Devine capped with a 9-yard burst into the end zone. It was Devine’s ninth rushing TD of the season.
Devine finished the game with 103 yards on 19 carries, moving into fifth place on WVU's career rushing list with 2,650 yards. Smith recovered from a shaky start to complete 15 of 21 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought our backup quarterback Geno Smith got valuable experience,” said Stewart.
Darius Marshall, the nation’s second-leading rusher coming into the game, finished with a season-low 82 yards on 25 carries. It was the first time this season that he did not reach the end zone.
Slate led all receivers with 10 catches for 102 yards.
Anderson completed 17 of 35 passes for 149 yards with two interceptions.
West Virginia, which had its streak of six consecutive 30-point games snapped today, boosts its record to 5-1. The Mountaineers resume Big East play next Saturday in Morgantown against 4-2 Connecticut, a 38-25 winner over Louisville earlier today.
Marshall drops to 4-3.
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