The West Virginia Mountaineers football team opened up this year as if last season never ended. The 2012 squad officially began the new year with a 69-34 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd.
The Mountaineers will retain the "Friends of Coal Bowl" trophy which has never left the city of Morgantown. Marshall hasn't won a single contest against West Virginia in the 12 games they have played, and there is no guarantee they will meet again anytime soon.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen said this following Saturday's win, "It means a lot to our staff, West Virginia University, the football program and the athletic department."
In front of just over 59,000 people, this team put on a performance to remember.
It was the best opening game scoring performance in school history, but ranked second in points scored in Morgantown as the WVU squad of 2001 scored 80 points against Rutgers.
It didn't take long for the Mountaineers to strike first. After Marshall punted away their first possession, the Mountaineers offense marched 96 yards down the field. The drive was capped off with the first touchdown of the season on a 32-yard pass to Stedman Bailey in the back of the end zone.
Geno Smith lead the team for five scoring drives in the first half, when the team only had six possessions. What happened the one time they didn't score? They marched down the field to the Marshall two-yard line, but couldn't convert on a fourth down quarterback sneak.
The first half went smooth for the offense, outside of that failed fourth down attempt. Running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie both found the endzone, while Tavon Austin and J.D. Woods caught touchdowns of their own.
Geno Smith surpassed Marc Bulger for the most completions in WVU history, with 631 throughout his career. He broke the record on a 13-yard completion to J.D. Woods about five minutes into the second quarter.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Smith completed a five-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey in the corner of the end zone. That was Smith's 60th touchdown pass of his career, pushing him ahead of Bulger's 59 and into the top spot on WVU's record list.
That wasn't all the senior quarterback did on this cloudy afternoon. Behind an offensive line that gave him all the time he needed, he completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 passing yards and four touchdowns. He added eight rushes for a career high 65 rushing yards which included a 28-yard touchdown scamper.
"I'm really pleased with how Geno played," said coach Holgerson. "He's done a great job of leading the team, leading the offense and taking care of the football"
Defensively, Joe DeForest's unit stood strong with the exception to a couple plays. They managed to stop the Thundering Herd in the red zone on multiple occasions, holding their opponent to a field goal each time. One of three Marshall touchdown drives came after a blocked punt.
Terrence Garvin strip-sacked Rakeem Cato and Isaiah Bruce picked it up to run 43 yards to the house. Then later on, Doug Rigg intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 46 yards to the Marshall three yard line. It lead to a touchdown pass from Paul Millard to KJ Myers.
Leading the way in tackles was Isaiah Bruce with 16, as the familiar "Bruce" roars came from the crowd. However, it's an entirely new Bruce for this team.
"I envisioned just making a play. To do my job and make plays," said Bruce. "What happened...making plays actually happened, so I guess everything went according to plan."
The Mountaineer offense might be known best for its "air raid" attack. But on this Saturday, several players showed why this team can perform in several areas.
Shawne Alston rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. It was a career high for the running back who last bested 100 yards against Rutgers last season.
Andrew Buie added 80 yards, and Tavon Austin added 66 yards of his own thanks to an end-around play in the second quarter. The total amount of rushing yards for WVU came out to 331 yards.
Coach Holgorsen said, "It's about as balanced as you can possibly be with about 300 plus yards in rushing and passing. We spread the ball around to a lot of people."
He isn't kidding, as the Mountaineers offense finished with 655 total yards, and had nine offensive players find the end zone.
The 103 combined points by both teams was a record for Milan Puskar Stadium, beating the previous record of 90 in 2005 when Louisville was in town.
Stedman Bailey led all receivers with nine catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Behind him landed J.D. Woods with 75 yards and Tavon Austin with 53. Both players had one score.
Despite the howling in pregame, the unnecessary roughness calls early in the game, and the tough play, the Mountaineers are 1-0 headed into the bye week.
Their next game is against James Madision University at Fedex Field on September 15th.