Mountaineers’ final two drives in fourth quarter erase 15-point deficit
Published: Sunday, September 12, 2010
Updated: Sunday, September 12, 2010 21:09
Down 15 points with 10:17 remaining, Geno Smith came to the West Virginia sidelines with choice words for his teammates.
Smith had just been sacked for the third time and lost a fumble one play later at his team's own 16-yard line. He let his frustrations be known.
"I wouldn't say I lost my cool," Smith said. "I saw a lot of guys' heads down on the sidelines, and I felt like it was my job to fire them up.
"I tried to make a point that I'm here to play, and I want to win."
His point was taken.
Smith led West Virginia on two consecutive touchdown drives of at least 90 yards to end regulation, and Tyler Bitancurt converted his field goal, while Marshall kicker Tyler Warner sent his wide right in overtime as WVU (2-0) beat Marshall 24-21, extending West Virginia's unbeaten record in the Friends of Coal Bowl to 10-0.
Smith finished WVU's final two drives 14-for-17 for 151 yards while also adding 34 rushing yards. His only touchdown was a 5-yard pass to tight end Will Johnson in the right corner of the end zone with 12 seconds remaining.
Seconds later, the sophomore found Jock Sanders for the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Before the drives, the Mountaineers punted twice and had a 45-yard field goal blocked in addition to Smith's fumble.
In just his second career start, the Miramar, Fla., native finished the game 32-for-45 for 316 yards.
Smith became only the eighth player in WVU history to attempt 45 passes and the first since Brad Lewis' 52 attempts in 2001 in a 32-20 loss to Maryland.
Smith's 71-percent completion percentage was the best among those eight, however.
"I couldn't help but smile watching my quarterback
mature and grow up," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "I was very pleased with how he responded. Not many football players in this country, in their second-career start, could do what he did."
It wasn't all smiles for West Virginia, however. The Mountaineers trailed up until the final 12 seconds of regulation.
Marshall went 80 yards in the game's first 2:17 before Brian Anderson connected with sophomore Antavious Wilson for an 8-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Marshall led.
After a Bitancurt 34-yard field goal, the Mountaineers appeared to be on the verge of striking again after marching 70 yards to the Marshall 9-yard line.
But WVU failed to convert on a fourth-and-one, turning the ball over.
After a Herd false start, which pushed Marshall to its own 4-yard line, sophomore receiver Aaron Dobson hauled in a Brian Anderson pass over the outstretched arms of West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy near midfield and scored from 96 yards out, putting the Herd up 14-3 with 11:02 left in the first half.
Marshall used just 2:30 on its two touchdown drives.
"Obviously, we had some mistakes and gave up big plays," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "The big thing is that our guys didn't hang their heads."
The game didn't lack drama.
The Mountaineer coaching staff admitted to changing its play-calling habits to prevent former assistant coach and first-year Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and his coaching staff from reading play calls.
West Virginia used a wristband and card play-calling system in the first half.
Because the unfamiliar system slowed the offense down and caused Smith to burn three timeouts in the first half, Stewart and his staff elected to return to the team's original system after halftime.
Two members of the WVU staff held towels between running backs coach Chris Beatty and the Marshall sidelines to block the view of the Herd after the half.
"We went to a lot of extremes," said WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "We were trying to protect what we knew they knew."
Multiple West Virginia offensive linemen said the Marshall defensive line was imitating Smith's snap count and "calling out the cadence" throughout the contest, which could have been to blame for most of West Virginia's five false starts.
The action typically results in a penalty.
"It's frustrating because you tell the ref, but they don't do anything about it," said WVU guard Josh Jenkins. "That was just dumb. Who does that? Let's just play.
"They deserved what they got."