An Alternate Plan
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
October 17, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Have you ever spent a full week preparing for a presentation only to find out right before you were about to give it that the program had changed and you had to come up with something entirely different off the cuff?
Well, that's what West Virginia had to do Saturday three plays into the 2009 Friends of Coal Bowl. The West Virginia University trainers weren't the only ones scrambling at Milan Puskar Stadium when Jarrett Brown suffered a concussion on what looked like two helmet-to-helmet blows (no penalty was called).
Probably three-fourths of the game plan offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen had devised to attack Marshall's attacking defense went right into the garbage can when true freshman Geno Smith had go into the game in Brown's place.
This is the same Geno Smith who made two mop-up appearances against Auburn and Syracuse, trying a grand total of 12 college passes before the Marshall game.
Having been around the block a few times, Stewart figured it might be a good idea to get Smith some playing time against the Orange just in case.
Well, just in case happened Saturday.
Marshall defensive coordinator Rick Minter alternated between trying to blitz Smith into oblivion and dropping defenders back into coverage to confuse him. Minter's plan was working beautifully in the first half.
The Mountaineers got their second first down of the game right before Tyler Bitancurt's 32-yard field goal trimmed Marshall's lead to 7-3 near halftime.
"We put them in harm's way with the field goal," said Marshall coach Mark Snyder.
Then West Virginia was able to go into the locker room and regroup. The offensive coaches came up with a plan that generated 229 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, and the defensive coaches got a beat on what Marshall was doing and held the Herd to just 53 yards after the break.
The result was a 24-7 victory.
"The third quarter was all about field position," said Snyder. "They dominated the field position."
Smith made four big-time throws that led to two of West Virginia's three second-half touchdowns.
The first came on fourth and 10 at the Marshall 27 when he escaped pressure, stumbled, regained his footing and then fired a 13-yard pass to Jock Sanders to the Marshall 14.
To begin the fourth quarter and leading just 10-7, Smith hit Wes Lyons for a big 29-yard first-down pass that flipped field position to the Marshall 44. Three plays later on third and four, Smith coolly fired a fastball to tight end Will Johnson out in the flat for a first down.
Smith's next pass was the prettiest of all, a 33-yard touchdown strike to Alric Arnett in the back of the end zone.
"Geez," said Snyder. "That was just a great throw and catch. That was great coverage."
"I told the staff if we got to 17 that I didn't think they could handle our defense," said Stewart.
Smith's final numbers were respectable: 15 of 21 for 147 yards and one touchdown. When backed up near the goal line West Virginia wisely played it conservatively; near the middle of the field the Mountaineers expanded their play book.
"You cannot play on eggshells in college football," said Stewart. "You have to play to win."
The defense was equally impressive, getting a pair of interceptions from Brandon Hogan and Robert Sands, fumble recoveries by Hogan and J.T. Thomas, and a key sack by Julian Miller.
Marshall was just 4 of 15 on third down a week after West Virginia held Syracuse to 0 for 11 in the Dome last weekend (that's 4 of 26 for the defense on third down in its last two games).
The Thundering Herd's only touchdown came as the result of some West Virginia charity - a 15-yard personal foul on a Marshall punt and an offsides infraction on a third-and-14 play that gave the Herd a third and nine at the 12 that Brian Anderson took in for a touchdown.
"Our defensive football team led by our defensive staff kept us in the game," admitted Stewart.
The special teams were solid: Scott Kozlowski had two punts inside the 20 and finished the game with a 45.2 average, the punt return team alertly stuffed a fake punt try at midfield and the kickoff team held Marshall to a return average of 11.8.
Everyone had a hand in this one - including the coaches, who had to come up with an alternate plan three plays into the game when Brown went to the sidelines.
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