WVU offense performed well in Holgorsen's debut
MORGANTOWN - Marshall's players and coaches weren't the only ones disappointed to see Sunday's game called off in the fourth quarter. West Virginia wanted to get back on the field after scoring on a short run and a kickoff return the final two times it had the ball.
"We had some things break down early on, but I think that had more to do with what the scheme was and us trying to figure out some first-game stuff - you don't know what to expect and they did some things schematically that we didn't know they were going to do," Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
"Sometimes it takes four quarters to figure it out, but I really felt if we had another quarter we'd get to a point where we could do some more things."
In the end, No. 24 WVU scored its most points in a season opener since 2008, converted half of its third downs, completed 26 of 35 pass attempts for 249 yards, averaged a little less than five yards on 61 snaps and didn't have a turnover in the 34-13 victory against the Thundering Herd.
"The only thing I was disappointed in offensively was not converting a fourth-and-short," Holgorsen said. "Other than that, I thought we moved the ball pretty well."
The Mountaineers (1-0) ran three plays and gained two yards on their first possession in Holgorsen's offense, but then kicked field goals around touchdown drives in the next four possessions to take a 20-7 lead.
They had another three-and-out near midfield after recovering Marshall's onside kick to start the second half and then freshman Vernard Roberts came up short on a fourth-and-1 that doubled as his first collegiate carry.
The Herd (0-1) answered with a field goal drive, but Tavon Austin returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown before the first of the three lightning delays. Roberts ended the day with a 1-yard touchdown run to close an 11-play, 54-yard drive.
WVU had overcome a lot of missteps that were either the results of their own doing or Marshall's pressure. The average third-down conversion required eight yards. Of the 61 total snaps, 11 were either completed passes or runs that lost yards or went for no gain.
"We didn't do a good job taking what they were giving us from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint," Holgorsen said. "We had way too many negative plays, but I give Marshall credit for that. They did some things defensively that got to us and weren't what we were anticipating. Eventually it was just about relaxing and making routine plays."
Quarterback Geno Smith played that part. He escaped pressure in the pocket a handful of times and either ran for big gains or extended plays to complete passes. On a 13-play drive, he converted four third downs by scrambling for one first down and passing for three others, including the 9-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey. Smith only threw consecutive incomplete passes on the same drive once. He had separate streaks of five, five and six complete passes.
Smith did have to handle pressure created by Marshall's defensive front. There were times he moved around and held onto the ball for a while and resisted the urge to run. Holgorsen said that had less to do with the quarterback and the offensive line than it did with their teammates.
The Mountaineers used nine receivers and seven caught at least one pass, but Holgorsen wanted to see much more.
"We're relatively thin at receiver and we didn't play very fast at receiver," he said. "The protection, it always can be better, but it wasn't terrible. Give Marshall a lot of credit for what they do defensively. The put a lot of pressure on us sometimes and we didn't pick things up sometimes, but we also didn't run our routes fast enough to where Geno could get the ball out to them."
WVU nevertheless gained nearly 10 yards per completion despite running very few deep routes against a defense that was backing off and Smith never threw a pass that worried anyone on his sideline. The running game, though, totaled 42 yards on 26 attempts - 1.6 yards per carry - and counted for nine plays that lost yardage or gained no yards. In all, Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison and Austin lost 15 yards off the team total.
"I think we're paying attention to the wrong things," Holgorsen said. "Marshall did some good things and now we've got to get some stuff worked out, but we had eight drives and we scored on four of them. I think a lot of people across the country would be happy with that."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.