Even Judge Judy would have to agree that after the first 45 minutes of action during Sunday's Friends of Coal Bowl at Milan Puskar Stadium the jury is still out when it comes to the success or failure of No. 24 West Virginia. Inconsistent offensive line play resulted in the Mountaineers having 42 yards rushing with 14:39 remaining in the fourth quarter while a special team breakdown resulted in an 87-yard punt return for the game's first touchdown by Marshall's Andre Booker.
Problems that plagued WVU in 2010, when Bill Stewart's third - and final - team in Morgantown struggled to post a 9-4 mark despite preseason predictions of a Big East championship and BCS bowl berth, continued to be evident.
Pass blocking was decent enough for Geno Smith to complete 26-of-35 attempts for 249 yards and two touchdowns, but the junior had to run for his life on more than one occasion as Marshall's front seven proved to be more than a match for WVU's front wall.
Twice the hosts found themselves with a first and goal with a chance to show the crowd of 60,000 plus what they had spent the summer reading story after story about - first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen's high-powered, point-producing offensive attack.
But, the first opportunity ended with a 27-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal as the line was unable to move anyone on three straight Andrew Buie runs while the second found Smith having to go to the air in order to get the ball into the end zone from 5 yards out.
In the second half, the Thundering Herd defense all but ignored WVU's rushing attack while Marshall's Tron Martinez took advantage of the Mountaineers' prevent unit for runs of 22, 20 and 13 yards in the third quarter alone. The final gallop by the Herd's sophomore was part of a 12-play, 47-yard drive that resulted in Tyler Warner's second successful field goal of the day from 21 yards out. The former Big Red kicker made good from 24 yards as time expired in the first half.
Failure on special teams, however, wasn't only felt by the Mountaineers as Marshall's kickoff unit was burned for a 100-yard touchdown return by WVU's Tavon Austin on the very next play and Bitancurt's third PAT of the game put the old gold and blue ahead by 14, 27-13, just before the inclement weather that had been forecast for the area hit, forcing the evacuation of the stadium.
Twice the two teams would attempt to resume the game with the second effort ending on a 1-yard rushing touchdown by WVU freshman Vernard Roberts.
Play would be stopped again, however, before the ensuing kickoff and the crowd that had been among the best opening day crowds in Mountaineer Field history, had dwindled to a few thousand, ruining an atmosphere that had been electric at the game's beginning.
Unlike the game, the Mantrip- WVU's tribute to the Mountain State's coal miners- proved to be everything it was expected to be as thousands of Mountaineer fans lined the sidewalk borders the main parking lot of WVU's Healthcare Center.
Contact Jim Butta at email@example.com