MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Right on cue, 11th-ranked West Virginia roared into the season Saturday, dominating Marshall, 69-34, behind a remarkable opening game by quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns, engineered eight scoring drives, ran for one touchdown on a broken play and looked every bit the Heisman Trophy contender most experts pegged him to be.
"He managed the game as well as anybody I've ever been around," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "First and foremost, I'm really pleased with how Geno played. He's done a great job of leading the team, leading the offense and taking care of the football."
The offense amassed 655 total yards and did so with relative ease and near-perfect balance: 324 yards passing and 331 rushing. Seven players scored.
Smith looked polished and patient, and, by midway in the second quarter, became the Mountaineers' career leader for completions with his 631st -- a 13-yard pass to J. D. Woods.
Among the other standouts was tailback Shawne Alston, who rushed for a career-high 123 yards and two touchdowns, breaking tackles and dragging bodies.
Andrew Buie rushed for 80 yards on six carries, and Smith added another 65 yards on eight.
The run game made a big difference, said Smith, whose team is known for its passing.
"The run game is the quarterback's best friend. To have those guys run the ball so well, the coverage being very vanilla, backing off, it made it pretty easy on me," Smith said. "We kept those guys on their toes the whole game. They didn't know whether we were going to run or pass it. As long as we stay balanced, I think we'll give a lot of defenses some problems."
Smith engineered five first-half scoring drives as West Virginia took a 34-10 lead into halftime.
The drives were as brisk as they were impressive.
Smith directed scoring drives that lasted under four minutes. The first one covered 3:36 and ended with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey; 2:48 that ended with Alston's 3-yard scoring run; 1:45 that finished with Buie's 24-yard run; 41 seconds that ended with a 6-yard pass to Tavon Austin, and 1:49 that ended in a 9-yard pass to J.D. Woods.
Tyler Bitancurt missed the extra point after Bailey's touchdown, leaving the score at 6-0, but the lead ballooned quickly thereafter.
Smith led three more quick scoring drives in the second half.
A 21-yard run by Alston ended one that took 2:26, Smith's 28-yard run capped one that took 3:24.
His final touchdown pass was a 5-yarder to Bailey that finished a 46-second drive highlighted by a 52-yard pass to Ivan McCartney.
The offense recovered two of its own fumbles, and only looked bad at the end of the first quarter, when a quarterback sneak on third-and-goal from the 3 failed.
"Terrible call. It was me being stupid and stubborn. Third and one," Holgorsen said. "We caught them, tried to punch it in, which is [what] we're always going to try to do. We lost a yard, and I got mad, became stubborn and took three points away from the team, which was not very smart."
The defense gave up 545 total yards and experienced some growing pains, but it also forced two major turnovers.
Linebacker Isaiah Bruce recovered a fumble and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and linebacker Doug Rigg recovered a strip by linebacker Terence Garvin two possessions later, returning it 46 yards to the Marshall 3. . The Mountaineers scored on the next play with backup quarterback Paul Millard throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver KJ Myers. It was the first catch of Myers' career.
The Herd converted 9 of 19 third downs and went 6 for 6 in the red zone.
"I didn't see any glaring errors. We were pretty sound," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "If you look at what happened to us, it goes back to first and second down. On third, we let them scramble a little bit, hit a side pocket or hit a seam. That's something we've got to work on as a defense."
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for a career-high 413 yards, and running back Travon Van rushed 16 times for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
NOTES -- RB Dustin Garrison (knee) did not dress for the game. ... The game marked the end of the seven-year series called the Friends of Coal Bowl.
First Published September 2, 2012 4:00 AM