Breaking Down the Game: Marshall


And Marshall wants to continue this series? Really?

With the final whistle, the Friends of Coal Bowl series officially ended. The 7 game series ended the same way the previous 5 match-ups from the early 1900s did, with Marshall on the losing end. The Mountaineers did not have much difficulty putting away kid brother Marshall, down right trouncing the Herd 69-34. Too bad there was no divine intervention to save the Herd’s defense like last year.

Geno Smith looked to be in mid-season form, making smart passes and distributing the ball well. The air raid was in full effect as Geno finished with 33 of 37 passing (89% completion =WOW) for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns. Geno even showed off his wheels, looking like a slower version of Major Harris on a 28 yard touchdown scramble.

Austin and Bailey played up to the level we have come to expect from the stud receivers. The one surprise in the receiving corps was J.D. Woods. He burst onto the scene in this game, catching 7 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown; proving to be Geno’s third option in the passing game.

While Woods was a little bit of surprise, the biggest surprise was how well the offensive line performed in the running game. This time last year, the offensive line could not seem to figure out the blocking scheme and WVU was laughably ineffective at running the ball. This day, no matter whether it was big Shawne Alston or shifty Andrew Buie, the Mountaineers were able to run down hill on the Herd. Alston carried the ball for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. More impressively, Buie racked up 58 yards rushing, 53 yards receiving, and a touchdown. As a team, WVU ran the ball for 314 yards. All this from a WVU team that averaged 123 yards per game rushing in 2011.

Marshall did not do themselves any favors defensively. The Herd missed countless tackles in the open field and appeared to be playing a soft zone coverage scheme for the majority of the afternoon. Add in the fact that the defense could not keep their composure and took unnecessary personal fouls, and you could see why the Herd got embarrassed today.

The Mountaineers defense did not fair much better though. The run defense played well, keeping Travon Van to 47 yards and a pair of  touchdowns. The problem area was the pass rush. The Mountaineers could not seem to get to Rakeem Cato on the turf all day. Part of that is Cato’s ability to roll the pocket. If the Mountaineers hope to compete in the Big XII this year, they will need a much more effective pass rush. Giving up 535 yards of offense to a mediocre offensive team like Marshall does not bode well for the rest of the season (granted a good portion of that came against the second stringers).

The lack of the pass rush put pressure on WVU’s inexperienced secondary. Pat Miller and Broderick Jenkins were hung out to dry in man coverage and let some big passes get by them. Karl Joseph played well for a true freshman, but had to make too many plays in the secondary. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, the Marshall receivers are not the most sure-handed players. If the Herd receivers (Dobson and Booker) were able to hold onto a few more balls, the game could have been much closer. Judging by the play Gator Hoskins made in the second quarter, he should have been targeted more often. Still, Cato had a career day against the WVU secondary, which did not play well without a supporting pass rush.

Overall, the offense was exceptional and the defense was lacking against the pass. The pass rush will need a lot of work over the next few weeks. West Virginia will have two weeks to work out their issues before facing the JMU Dukes at FedEx Field and three weeks before they play a meaningful game. That should be plenty of time for Clarke and company to shape up. For the Herd: they need to really work on their defensive strategy. They do not appear to be well equipped to handle a pass-heavy offense, which will cause issues for this team in a pass happy Conference USA.