By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The numbers 70 and 33 will forever symbolize a turning point in the history of West Virginia football.
What happened Saturday was a simple beatdown.
The Mountaineers ended the Friends of Coal Bowl with their most dominating performance of the series with in-state rival Marshall. They rolled up 655 yards of total offense, led of course by quarterback Geno Smith, and defeated the Thundering Herd 69-34 in their final meeting at not-quite sold out Milan Puskar Stadium.
A crowd of 59,120 saw Smith get his Heisman Trophy campaign off to a nearly flawless start. The senior from Miami had just four incomplete passes, connecting on 32 of 36 for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 66 yards and scored on a 28-yard run on which he turned a complete 360 degrees before taking off when he could not find a running back.
It was a record-setting day for Smith, who surpassed Marc Bulger for career completions with 650 and career touchdown passes with 60.
“First and foremost, I’m really pleased with how Geno played,” second-year WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s done a great job of leading the team, leading the offense and taking care of the football.”
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers were playing their first game since drubbing Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl in January, and their first game as a member of the Big 12. They were a missed extra point by Tyler Bitancurt away from reaching 70 again.
It was the most points allowed by Marshall since West Virginia scored 81 way back in 1923.
“Obviously, you don’t want to give up that many points,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “Geno and that offense, they are a tough bunch to defend, and we didn’t do a very good job of it today.”
They scored on all but one possession of the first half, with Smith hitting three different receivers for touchdowns.
Marshall was able to hang around early, trailing just 13-7 in the second quarter. Travon Van’s 2-yard touchdown run with 11:16 left before halftime capped a 14-play, 98-yard drive that started after Cortez Carter stopped Smith after a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-goal at the Herd 2.
WVU responded quickly and with alarming regularity.
A quick drive of five plays and 68 yards culminated with Andrew Buie’s 24-yard TD on a draw play that made it 20-7.
Justin Haig’s 34-yard field goal got Marshall to within 20-10 — the closest it would get the rest of the day.
A 70-yard run by Tavon Austin helped to set up Smith’s 6-yard TD to Austin for a 27-10 lead with 6:25 left before the half.
A third scoring toss by Smith, this one nine yards to J.D. Woods, made it 34-10 with a minute to go.
It didn’t stop in the second half. Shawne Alston, who finished with 123 yards rushing, scored his second touchdown, from 21 yards, to extend the Mountaineer lead to 41-10.
WVU scored touchdowns on its next three possessions, with a 43-yard Isaiah Bruce fumble return thrown in for good measure.
The Mountaineers, who gained 31 first downs, ran for 331 yards. Backup quarterback Paul Millard hooked up with K.J. Myers on a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Stedman Bailey had nine catches for 104 yards and two scores.
“It’s about as balanced as you can possibly be with about 300-plus yards in rushing and passing,” 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 the ball more, and that’s what the offense is able to do.”
Marshall also got plenty of players involved.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato, who was 38 of 54 for a career-high 413 yards, distributed the ball to 13 different pass-catchers. The leading receiver was tight end Eric Frohnapfel, the former WVU recruit who de-committed when Holgorsen took over with an offense that does not use a tight end.
Frohnapfel caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Cato also hooked up with Miami Central High teammate Tommy Shuler five times for 47 yards, including Shuler’s first TD with Marshall.
Aaron Dobson had four receptions for 72 yards, but he suffered a hip pointer injury at the end of a 40-yard catch and did not play in the second half. Dobson, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, said after the game that he should be OK for next week’s home debut against Western Carolina.
“I thought there were some positives on the offensive side of the ball,” Holliday said. “We just have to get better on defense.”
Marshall also had seven players run the ball for a total of 132 yards. Kevin Grooms, who originally signed with Miami, led the way with 43 yards on five carries. Van had 38 yards and a pair of scores.
West Virginia’s dominance was all about the talent it has on offense instead of Marshall’s ineptitude. In fact, the Herd finished with 545 yards of offense.
“That’s something we’re not going to be too concerned with at this point,” Holgorsen said. “The football got kind of sloppy there in the second half. It’s more about evaluating each and every position to see what we have to get better between now and in two weeks.”
The Mountaineers are off next week before taking on James Madison Sept. 15 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. That game will kick off at 4:30 p.m. and be televised on ROOT Sports.
Marshall will host Western Carolina at 7 p.m. next Saturday with Fox College Sports televising.
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No. 11 WEST VIRGINIA 69, MARSHALL 34
MU (0-1) 0 10 10 14 — 34
WVU (1-0) 13 21 21 14 — 69
WVU: Bailey 32 pass from G. Smith (kick failed), 8:56.
WVU: Alston 3 run (Bitancurt kick), 4:53.
MU: Van 4 run (Haig kick), 11:16.
WVU: Buie 24 run (Bitancurt kick), 9:25.
MU: FG Haig 34, 7:11.
WVU: Austin 6 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 6:25.
WVU: Woods 9 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 1:00.
WVU: Alston 21 run (Bitancurt kick), 12:27.
MU: Van 3 run (Haig kick), 8:00.
WVU: G. Smith 28 run (Bitancurt kick), 4:32.
WVU: Bruce 43 fumble return (Bitancurt kick), 3:41.
MU: FG Haig 29, :18.
WVU: Bailey 5 pass from G. Smith (Bitancurt kick), 14:24.
WVU: Myers 3 pass from Millard (Bitancurt kick), 13:04.
MU: Shuler 12 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 9:50.
MU: E. Frohnapfel 11 pass from Cato (Haig kick), :54.
Attendance — 59,120.
First downs 28 31
Rushes-yards 45-132 35-331
Passing 413 324
Comp-Att-Int 38-56-1 34-39-1
Return Yards 56 65
Punts-Avg. 4-51.3 2-22.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 11-112 5-39
Time of Possession 32:57 27:03
RUSHING — Marshall: Grooms 5-43, Van 16-38, Cato 4-19, Watson 6-17, Butler 10-14, Ward 3-1, B. Frohnapfel 1-0. West Virginia: Alston 16-123, Buie 6-80, Austin 3-66, G. Smith 8-65, Millard 2-(minus 3).
PASSING — Marshall: Cato 38-54-1-413, B. Frohnapfel 0-2-0-0. West Virginia: G. Smith 32-36-0-323, Millard 2-3-1-1.
RECEIVING — Marshall: E. Frohnapfel 6-60, Shuler 5-47, Dobson 4-72, Kelson 4-45, Van 4-14, Crawford 3-48, Anta. Wilson 3-40, Hoskins 2-24, D. Allen 2-18, Snipes-Booker 2-12, King 1-20, Butler 1-10, Evans 1-3. West Virginia: Austin 10-53, Bailey 9-104, Woods 7-75, Buie 4-31, Thompson 2-6, McCartney 1-52, Myers 1-3.