Coal Bowl: WVU ends series with rout, 69-34
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Just about everyone did a little bit of everything for the offense as No. 11 West Virginia ran away from Marshall in the final game of the seven-year Coal Bowl series, 69-34.
"Obviously," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said, "we wanted to go out on top."
A crowd of 59,120 at Mountaineer Field saw the Mountaineers get 10 touchdowns from eight players and win their ninth straight season-opener. That ties the second-longest streak in school history (1919-27) and trails only the 11-year streak from 1980-1990, the first 11 years of Hall of Fame Coach Don Nehlen's 21 years at the school.
Shawne Alston, Andrew Buie, Tavon Austin and Geno Smith all had at least 65 yards rushing and Buie, Alston and Smith had touchdowns. Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods were among the seven players who caught passes and Austin, Woods and Bailey all had touchdowns from Smith.
He completed 32 of his 36 attempts for 323 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than three quarters added 65 yards rushing. The Mountaineers had 413 of their 655 yards in the first half of their first game since the 70-33 Orange Bowl romp against Clemson Jan. 4.
WVU had 644 yards of offense and was averaging 9.5 yards per play when it removed most of its starters early in the fourth quarter leading 69-20.
Austin caught 10 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown and added 66 yards rushing. Bailey caught nine passes for 104 yards and two scores and J.D. Woods had seven receptions for seven catches for 75 yards and a score - and he caught seven passes all of last season. Alston carried 16 times for 123 yards and two scores. Buie added 80 yards rushing and 31 receiving.
The Mountaineers split 648 yards evenly between 34 completions 34 rushes rushing.
"That's about as balanced as you can be," Holgorsen said. "We spread the ball around to a lot of people. The balance standpoint is more important to me. If we're running the ball and we're not getting any yards, then we'll start throwing it more. That's what the offense is able to do."
Marshall lost its third straight season-opener and hasn't beaten a FBS team in a season-opener since topping Clemson to begin the 1999 season. Quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 38 of 54 passes for 413 yards and two touchdowns. Ten Thundering Herd players caught at least two passes, led by Eric Frohnapfel's six catches for 60 yards and a score. The offense totaled 532 yards on 101 snaps, averaged 5.4 yards per play and converted 9 of 19 third downs.
"We couldn't get off the field on third down," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "At halftime they were at 50 percent and that's something that can't happen. We did a great job on first and second down and we gave up on third down."
WVU opened with touchdowns on two tidy drives to start the game. The offense needed 17 plays and 6 minutes, 24 seconds to cover 161 yards. Six players ran or caught the ball and six plays went for at least 10 yards.
Bailey caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to start the scoring and Alston scored on a three-yard run on the next possession. The only bad moment for the Mountaineers came on the third drive when the offense stalled after a first-and-goal at the Marshall 7. Smith tried to sneak in on fourth down at the 3, but was stopped two yards short.
"Terrible call," Holgorsen said. "That was me being stupid and stubborn. It was (third-and-goal) and we tempoed them because they subbed and we caught them and we tried to punch it in, which is what we're always going to do. We lost a yard and I got mad and became stubborn and took three points away from the team, which was not very smart."
WVU scored touchdowns on the next four possessions with four different players. Buie ended a five-play, 68-yard drive with back-to-back runs of 18 and 24 yards. Cato completed a 40-yard pass to Dobson to set up a field goal to make it 20-10, but Austin gained 70 yards on a reverse and then caught passes for 6 and 7 yards, the second for a touchdown, to finish a three-play, 83-yard drive.
The Thundering Herd failed on a fourth down at the WVU 26 and the Mountaineers needed nine plays to cover 74 yards. On the drive, WVU fumbled the ball, but recovered and picked up a first down for the second time in the game. The possession ended when Woods caught a 9-yard touchdown pass despite pass interference in the end zone. It was his second career touchdown and the first since his first career catch as a sophomore in 2010.
The Mountaineers needed seven plays to score to start the third quarter when Alston ran in from 21 yards out. The touchdown streak ended on the next possession when Austin lost 10 yards on a reverse and WVU couldn't convert third-and-19. The first punt of the season was blocked by Gator Hoskins. The Thundering Herd scored on a 3-yard run by Travon Van to make it 41-17.
Last season, Marshall scored a touchdown on WVU's first punt of the season.
Things only got sillier from there. On third-and-2 on the next drive, Smith tried to hand off to Buie, but Buie missed the call and was pass blocking. Smith spun in place and then ran untouched through the middle for a 28-yard touchdown. Linebacker Terence Garvin sacked Cato on the next drive and knocked the ball free. Linebacker Isaiah Bruce picked it up and ran 43 yards for a touchdown and a 55-17 lead.
"He said, 'Man, you should've at least gave me the ball back,'" said Bruce, a redshirt freshman who made his first start.
Bailey threw his fourth touchdown pass on the next pass, a 5-yard fade to Bailey in the corner, but the defense struck again when linebacker Doug Rigg intercepted Cato and returned it 46 yards to the Marshall 3. Backup quarterback Paul Millard threw a fade pass to K.J. Myers on the next play for a touchdown, the first catch of Myers' career.