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September 2, 2012

Smashing start

WVU doesn’t miss beat, routs Herd in opener

MORGANTOWN — It’s getting so that when you come to a West Virginia football game you have to have your beer, food, binoculars, money for Mountaineer gear and ... oh, yes, a calculator with you to keep up with the scoring.

West Virginia, picking up where it left off in the Orange Bowl when it scored 70 points on Clemson as if the eight months that transpired in between meant nothing at all, scored 10 more touchdowns and put 69 points on the board in sending Marshall home with its Buffalo tail between its legs in a 69-34 beating.

There are any of a number of ways to point out how awesome this offensive display was from West Virginia.

• They ran 74 plays and had 69 points, almost a point a play.

• They rushed and passed for more than 300 yards.

• They had four players, grab hold of your seat, including quarterback Geno Smith, rush for 65 or more yards, Shawne Alston leading the way with 123 yards and two touchdowns.

• And, oh, yes, they had eight different players score touchdowns.

That’s eight.


Coach Dana Holgorsen hinted at just how amazing that is when he noted:

“There’s only one ball.”

How do you get Alston to rush for a hundred yards, Smith to throw for 323 and four TDs, Stedman Bailey to catch passes for more than 100 yards, Tavon Austin to break loose for a 70-yard run and there be only one ball?

What’s more, they had to share it with Marshall, and Marshall made the WVU defense look a bit discombobulated as it used that same ball and ran 101 plays for 545 yards.

That’s 1,200 yards of offense ... and “there’s only one ball.”

Of course, no one was worried about the new 3-4 defense when it was over ... although the defensive coordinator was taken aback somewhat when he learned how many yards his team allowed.

“How many did they have?”

“545,” he was told.

He delayed a moment, then recalled that he had noted that the defense was OK as long as WVU scored more points, and they did that.

The reason, in part being, that most of the time Geno Smith had the ball in his hands, either throwing it or handing it off.

“First and foremost, I’m really pleased with how Geno played. He’s done a great job of leading the team, leading the offense and taking care of the football,” Holgorsen said.

In the process, he broke the school record for most career completions and touchdowns thrown, both held previously by Marc Bulger, a pretty fair technician himself.

Smith was on target throughout, in part because his receivers were wide open and in part because the offensive line was demolishing Marshall both in pass protection and the running game.

Someone wanted to know how it compared to the one that finished the year last year but Smith wasn’t buying that comparison.

“It’s not so much how we finished last season. You have to compare it to how we started last season. There’s a big difference in the offense from the Marshall game last year to this year,” he said. “We understand the offense a lot better; we trust in one another. Every guy is out there wanting to do his job. As long as we do that we will score.”

See, to Smith, he looks at the game and at himself as a constantly evolving thing, with the most important thing being how you move forward.

“I just want to continue to improve because you can’t take time for granted. You can’t get time back,” he said.

Because of that he doesn’t want to read too much into this performance because he knows it will get tougher as the year goes on, that this team isn’t where it will have to be when it goes to Texas or when Oklahoma comes to Morgantown.

“I don’t want to say anything because it’s too early,” he said in talking about the effectiveness of the offense. “I was able to mix it up and spread it around and guys made plays. It was only Game 1 and we can improve so much from here.”

Looking at the performance, though, that is hard to imagine, for this was such a perfect blend of all the offensive elements, the passing game, the running game, the offensive line.

WVU not only unleashed Alston, but Andrew Buie looked like a different back from the one that was starting early last season. He wound up not playing much at all as Dustin Garrison, who did not dress for this game, and Alston took over and led WVU to the Orange Bowl.

There were five TD passes, four rushing ... the most memorable being a scramble by Smith of 28 yards on a broken play. It was a run he never would have made a year ago.

“It was a miscommunication and they did a great job of blocking. I put a move on and was off,” he said.

In some ways it was reminiscent of some of the things Major Harris did during his Hall of Fame career, but Smith has work to do before he becomes the next Pat White as a running quarterback.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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