MORGANTOWN – About 40 minutes before the seventh and final – at least for now – Friends of Coal Bowl, there was a considerable amount of yapping, woofing, jostling and pushing between the in-state rivals on Mountaineer Field.
Unfortunately for Marshall, that’s pretty much about as close at it got Saturday afternoon.
“You’ve got to bring with your ‘A’game,” Thundering Herd defensive end Alex Bazzie said after West Virginia blitzed Marshall 69-34. “We didn’t come with our ‘A’ game. They executed their plays, and we didn’t execute our defense, and it turned into what it turned into.”
The game was eerily in its final result like WVU’s previous victory, a 70-33 rout of Clemson in last season’s Orange Bowl. That comparison with an ACC team on the wrong side of the score was absolutely no consolation to the Herd, which had the ball for almost 33 minutes and rolled up 545 yards.
It didn’t matter much, after the Mountaineers scored two touchdowns in the final 6:25 of the first half after Marshall had cut WVU’s early bulge to 20-10.
“They did a lot to us,” said Boston College-transfer safety Dominick LeGrande, who led the Herd with 13 tackles (Bazzie had 11). “They did everything. It wasn’t just one there, one there, they did everything to us.
“They got going, and they executed everything they wanted to do.”
That pretty much summed it up. WVU had 655 yards, and it wasn’t just the arm of Geno Smith that decimated the Herd defense . The Mountaineers ran for 331 yards, 7 more than were gained through the air.
“The running game surprised me,” LeGrande said. He wasn’t alone among the Marshall defenders.
West Virginia’s beefy and experienced offensive line – averaging 312.4 pounds with 101 combined career starts – ruled the game from the start, too.
Marshall also didn’t help itself with inconsistent-to-poor tackling, as WVU consistently turned about 7- or 8-yard gains into twice that much.
“No, not at all,” Herd Coach Doc Holliday said when told he couldn’t be happy with his team’s tackling. “Our goal is to have single-digit missed tackles. We probably didn’t have that in the first quarter.”
And although his team completed passes to an equal-opportunity 13 receivers, Holliday bluntly said he wasn’t interested in statistics.
Smith was impressive as usual, and as expected. Marshall could generate no pass rush against the Mountaineers, and the senior did little to dispel the gab about his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
The West Virginia QB was 19-of-22 in the decisive first half for 190 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. He finished 30-of-34 for 266 yards and three scor4es in only three quarters of play – and wasn’t picked or sacked.
It only continued the Herd’s troubling times against Smith, whose personal late-game play in 2010 at Edwards Stadium led WVU from a 15-point deficit and to an overtime victory, extending Marshall’s futility in the series that’s done for who knows how long.
In four Coal Bowls against the Herd, Smith was 103-of-135 passing – that’s a .763 percentage -- for 978 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked five times in four years … and for good measure, he added 102 rushing yards, 65 of those in this 2012 game.
The Herd’s degree of difficulty was increased when West Virginia went to power football, and the Mountaineers’ veteran offensive line opened gaping holes for the run game against a Herd defense designed mostly to play pass in air-happy Conference USA.
In that 34-10 first half, West Virginia averaged 10.6 per rush. On two fewer carries than the Herd had, Holgorsen’s team had 147 more ground yards by halftime.
WVU’s 69 points were the most a Herd team has allowed since an 81-0 loss in Morgantown in October 1923. Only four times has Marshall given up more points in 113 seasons and one game in its football history.
“They were able to run it and able to throw it, and unfortunately did both,” Holliday said. “We have to get out there and show some aggression.”
The loss was compounded for the Herd, too, when starting right offensive tackle Garrett Scott was carted off the field early in the second quarter with a left leg injury. The early thought in the Herd camp as a broken ankle, but later the unofficial diagnosis was likely a high ankle sprain – meaning Scott could be out for a while.
Senior star wideout Aaron Dobson also sat through the second half, due to a right hip pointer. Dobson said he should be able to play next Saturday, when FCS member Western Carolina visits Edwards Stadium for the Herd’s 7 p.m. home opener.
It’s Marshall’s first game against one of its former Southern Conference foes since winning the 2002 opener over Appalachian State.
It figures to be a very long week of practice for a team that displayed increased speed and strength in preseason camp, but one that was dominated ans simply beaten on too many plays in a very long opener.
“We’ve got to come together. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Jack Bogaczyk is the Editor of the Herd Insider.