MU yields its most points since 1923
MORGANTOWN - Sixty-nine percent might get you a passing grade in college classes, but 69 points will always get your defense a failing grade in college football.
That's what happened to Marshall's youthful defense Saturday, which flunked its first test in a 69-34 loss to West Virginia. There was little to be excited about on that side of the ball.
The Thundering Herd allowed 655 total yards, its third such total over 600 in two seasons, and the second-highest since the school entered Division I-A in 1997. Only Tulsa's 682-yard explosion last Nov. 12 was higher.
And the Mountaineers could have blown through the 700 mark. They gained 188 in the first quarter, 413 in the first half and 584 after three quarters. WVU quarterback Geno Smith was pulled early in the fourth quarter after directing a three-play, 60-yard drive that made it 62-30.
The Herd hasn't yielded that many points since Oct. 1923, when little ol' Marshall College yielded 81 to ... yes, WVU. The previous worst indignity was a 66-6 drubbing by Miami of Ohio in 1971.
"I don't think that's something I even thought about," said MU defensive end Alex Bazzie. "I did know that, coming into the game, we were facing a great quarterback with an electrifying offense. Not once, though, did I think we'd give up that many points."
Name any aspect of defense, and Marshall flunked it. Smith's 32-of-36, 323-yard performance looked like a seven-on-seven drill. The Mountaineers ran for 331 yards, a throwback to the Steve Slaton/Pat White era. They converted only five third downs, but only faced eight such situations.
The Herd didn't have a sack until the score was 69-27. Bazzie had 11 tackles, but many were nowhere near his position. And so on.
To be fair, 14 of those points weren't the defense's fault. WVU scored one defensive touchdown on a "strip-and-score" against quarterback Rakeem Cato, and a fourth-quarter pick of Cato led to a 3-yard drive for the Mountaineers' final score.
Details, details. By any measure, the Herd defense was dominated.
The problems are too long to list, and MU coaches and players didn't dare to list them all. The pass rush was impotent, cornerbacks were helpless against Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. WVU scored one touchdown on a delayed draw for the ages, Andre Buie's 24-yard run that blew open a 13-7 game.
But the often-lost art of tackling hurt the Herd as much as anything.
"Our goal is to have single-digit missed tackles; it's hard to tell how many missed tackles [we had]," Herd coach Holliday said. "We probably didn't have that in the first quarter [alone]."
The Herd is delighted to see Smith go off in the sunset - not that it will have a chance to see the Mountaineers in the foreseeable future. Few passers have riddled the Herd like Smith has in four long games, beginning with his off-the-bench effort in 2009.
Smith's final count: 105 completions in 137 attempts (76.6 percent), 1,035 yards, eight touchdowns and nothing close to an interception. That computes to a 157.18 NCAA passer rating, a mark perhaps good enough to make the Heisman banquet.
The Herd couldn't beat Smith, so it had to admire him. Not only the defenders, but his south Florida counterpart Cato.
"He's doing what the best are doing in 'the league' right now," Cato said, referring to the NFL. "Great pocket composure, never takes his hand off the ball, finding time, eight, nine seconds in the pocket, just holding, holding the ball [before] taking off. Knowing when to run the ball, throw the ball out of bounds, not taking hits.
"Right now, he's just the perfect quarterback."
And that's not all Smith did.
After Travon Van's 4-yard touchdown got the Herd within 13-7 with 11:16 left in the first half, Smith got WVU rolling for a quick answer. He hit J.D. Woods for 12 and 13 yards, then handed off to Buie for 18, down to the Marshall 24-yard line.
He dropped back to pass, looked around for a target, then slipped a handoff to Buie, who could have crawled the 24 yards to the end zone. The Herd's defense was sucked in, spread out and red-faced by that sleight of hand.
"We knew that, here and there, they'd throw the draw on us, but we didn't know it was going to turn into anything that big," Bazzie said. "They really executed and gained some positive yards out of that. You've got to applaud them for that.
"Geno's such a threat that you would think that once he dropped back into throwing that he's going to sling it. And then he surprised me with the draw. When you've got a dual-threat quarterback like that, you don't know how to handle it. He caught us by surprise on that."
That was the theme on a long, fruitless afternoon for the Marshall defense.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.