Coal Bowl: WVU shows offensive balance in rout
MORGANTOWN -- No. 11 West Virginia set a modern school record with 655 yards of offense in Saturday's 69-34 victory against Marshall. It was the 13th time the Mountaineers have had 600 yards of offense and the second in 14 games under Coach Dana Holgorsen.
The record is held by the 1923 team, which gained 674 yards against Washington & Lee. The previous second-best was 654 yards against Syracuse in 1993.
WVU passed for 324 yards and rushed for 331. The only other time the Mountaineers had 300 passing and rushing was a 63-48 win against Pitt in 1965.
"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."
The point total was the most in a season-opener at Mountaineer Field, topping the 62 points scored to begin the 1988 and 2007 seasons. WVU played for the national title in the 1988 season and was one win away from playing for it again in 2007.
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THE MOUNTAINEERS have won nine consecutive season-openers, matching the second-best streak in school history (1919-27). It 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.
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WVU DRESSED 15 true freshmen and played 10: safety Karl Joseph, who started, receiver Jordan Thompson, defensive linemen Korey Harris, Christian Brown and Korey Harris, linebacker Garrett Hope, safety K.J. Dillon, cornerbacks
Rick Rumph and Nana Kyremeh and long snapper John DePalma.
Also making debuts were redhirt junior Dozie Ezemma, redshirt freshman Ismail Showell, redshirt freshman K.J. Myers, redshirt freshman receiver Cody Clay, redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Brandon Jackson and Russell Haughton-James, long snapper Jerry Cooper and defensive lineman Kyle Rose.
The Mountaineers used 62 players. Excluded was sophomore running back Dustin Garrison, who did not dress. He's recovering from the torn left ACL suffered before the Orange Bowl.
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THOMPSON, a January enrollee who is considered a starter, though the team won't always start two inside receivers, caught two passes for eight yards in his debut.
"He didn't have any freshman jitters," receivers coach and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "He was all smiles playing and didn't panic. He's pretty mature for a freshman and he played pretty well. But he's played in a lot of big games. I didn't think that would affect him or the size of the crowd would get to him, and it didn't. He was pretty even-keened throughout the game as I saw him."
Joseph, also a January enrollee, made seven tackles and two tackles for a loss in his first game.
"Karl didn't have a lot of plays at him," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "He did a good job on the ones when he did have a responsibility."
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HOLGORSEN NAMED running back Shawne Alston the team's offensive player of the week Sunday. Linebacker Isaiah Bruce was named the defensive player of the week and receiver Ryan Nehlen was named special teams player of the week.
Alston had a career-high 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Bruce, a redshirt freshman who started, had a game-high 16 tackles and returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown. Nehlen didn't return a punt or kick or make a tackle on a coverage team, but did play on several special teams units.
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WHEN AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" tolled on third down at Milan Puskar Stadium this season, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato didn't get rattled.
It was a different feeling for the sophomore as opposed to 2011, when he made his collegiate debut in front of that raucous crowd. The Thundering Herd fell 69-34, but Cato threw for 413 yards on 38-of-54 passing and two touchdowns, the best day for a Marshall quarterback since Bernard Morris threw for 417 yards versus New Hampshire on Sept. 15, 2007.
The bulk of Cato's numbers came later in the game. He threw for both scores and 234 yards in the second half.
"I come from a school (Miami Central) that, when we're down, we're ready to crank up and we never count ourselves out," he said. "I've kept that mentality all my life. Anytime we're down, I want to keep pushing hard, never quit and never give up."
The Herd's 545 yards of total offense were the most gained since racking up 506 yards in an Oct. 22, 2011 loss to Houston.
Marshall coaches likely will be pleased with how Cato distributed the ball. His 38 completions went to 13 different receivers. Tight end Eric Frohnapfel led Herd receivers with six catches.
"Everybody knows we have (Aaron) Dobson and (Antavious Wilson)," Cato said. "At the same time, you want to make sure all your receivers are playing, are on the right track and know what they're doing."
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TRUE FRESHMAN punter Tyler Williams was another silver lining among Saturday's clouds. He averaged 51.2 yards on four punts, with a long of 59 yards. His first punt, on Marshall's opening drive, skipped out of bounds at the West Virginia 6-yard line.
He said he felt more comfortable than he planned in the face of a hostile WVU crowd.
"It really wasn't that bad," Williams said. "I thought it would be a lot louder. I think I envisioned it being a lot louder. I was really confident in my guys, which helped. If I had a hectic snap, I might have been a little more on edge. But I had the best (punt) team, which really helped me get the job done."
Williams said the pinpoint snaps from long snapper Matt Cincotta were a great help. He knows he can improve for the future, a notion Head Coach Doc Holliday agreed with.
"I thought he punted well," Holliday said. "The problem was he outkicked the coverage a couple of times, when he kicked it to Tavon and when you give him space, you have problems."
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FRESHMAN RUNNING back Kevin Grooms had to wait until the third quarter for his first stab at playing time, but didn't waste much time making an impact.
Grooms took his hand-off for 19 yards, Marshall's longest run of the day, and led the Herd with 43 yards rushing on just five carries. The waiting wasn't fun, but Grooms was confident he could help the offense.
"I knew what I was going to get out there and do," Grooms said. "I felt I just needed the opportunity, that's all. When I got it, I made the most of it."
Grooms actually got into the end zone on a two-yard run in the third quarter, but it was called back on a holding penalty.
Other true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who played Saturday included defensive backs A.J. Leggett and D.J. Hunter, receiver Davonte Allen, defensive linemen Armonze Daniel and Jarquez Samuel, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, running backs Steward Butler and Remi Watson, punter Tyler Williams, long snapper Matt Cincotta and tight end Joe Woodrum.