Marshall's fast start fizzles
MORGANTOWN -- Marshall's missed opportunities resulted in a fourth consecutive Friends of Coal Bowl loss.
The bottom line resulted in West Virginia (5-1) posting a 24-7 victory over the competitive Thundering Herd (4-3) before a Milan Puskar Stadium crowd of 54,432.
An unusual first half featuring turnovers, a Marshall faked punt attempt and an injured West Virginia starting quarterback concluded with a 7-3 Thundering Herd advantage. A 16-play, 64-yard drive lasting 8:14 and aided by a facemask penalty flagged on WVU resulted in Brian Anderson's 12-yard touchdown scramble.
An opportunity for a two-possession lead was lost when Darius Marshall fumbled away possession at the West Virginia 8-yard line. Marshall's next possession ended with Kase Whitehead narrowly being denied on a fake punt attempt.
West Virginia soon pounced, trimming the deficit to 7-3 on Tyler Bitancurt's 32-yard field goal, kicking off a run of 24 unanswered points. Numerous opportunities were lost under dark, damp conditions, but Marshall's head coach wouldn't bite on the "We let one get away" cliche.
"That was the final score -- 24-7," Mark Snyder said. "You have to credit West Virginia. We knew they had been a second half team, as we have been all year.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge of two teams in-state in the second half and the third quarter was all about field position. We couldn't get the ball, and we're punting to the 50 each time."
A 29-yard Marshall punt positioned WVU near midfield for its next score. Taking over in Marshall territory, the Mountaineers assumed the lead for good on Noel Devine's 14-yard touchdown run, providing a 10-7 edge less than five minutes into the second half.
West Virginia backup quarterback Geno Smith, subbing for injured starter Jarrett Brown, connected with Jock Sanders for 13 yards on fourth down and 10, setting up the decisive touchdown.
"He just stepped up in the pocket and made a good throw," Thundering Herd linebacker Mario Harvey said.
A fumble by Thundering Herd tight end Cody Slate preceded the score that essentially decided the game. Five plays later, Smith, fired a 33-yard touchdown pass down the right seam to Alric Arnett, extending the advantage to 17-7. Marshall cornerback DeQuan Bembry defended the play well, but excellent execution won out.
"That play by Arnett was just a great throw and catch," Snyder said. "You have to live with those, but otherwise I thought we played extremely well against a very good offense.
Devine, the nation's No. 3 leading rusher added a 9-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter, providing a comfortable margin.
Still, Marshall's defense contained Devine relatively well. The speedy junior, averaging more than 126 rushing yards a game, totaled 103 on 19 carries.
"We did a good job of keeping him in the box and taking away the cutbacks," Harvey said. "You never know when he's going to find a seam and hit a 60-yard touchdown so I think we did a pretty good job."
Marshall's Darius Marshall, NCAA Division I-A's No. 2 running back at more than 147 yards a game, was limited to 82 yards on 25 attempts. Quarterback Brian Anderson, who suffered a concussion late in the game, completed 17 of 35 passes for 149 yards with two interceptions.
"Our defensive football team led by our defensive staff kept us in the game," West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said.
Smith completed 15 of 21 passes for 147 yards for the Mountaineers, who will visit Huntington next season. Slate excelled offensively for the Thundering Herd, hauling in 10 passes for 102 yards.
"The defense played great and then in the second half we just put them in bad situations," Slate said. "The offense has to step up and make plays."
Marshall returns to Conference USA play Saturday against UAB. Kickoff at Joan C. Edwards Stadium is noon and CSS will televise the game.
"I said to the team just a minute ago, this is the most focused, positive, feel-good-about-themselves group I've been around since I've been here," Snyder said. "They have confidence and I just told them we have to follow it up and take it back to Huntington with us and we'll be fine, because that was a very confident group."