MORGANTOWN-Ask anyone that has followed No. 11 West Virginia's football team over the past two years and they will tell you that the performances turned in by senior quarterback Geno Smith and his corps of talented receivers, led by senior Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey, was not unexpected.
Ask those same individuals about the display put on by the Mountaineers' offensive line as well as running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie and even the staunchest of supporters would have to admit concern heading into the Friends of Coal Bowl matchup with Marshall University.
Both concerns were answered, at least for the time being, following Alston's 123-yard performance and that of WVU's front five of seniors Joey Madsen, Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins, junior Pat Eger and sophomore Quinton Spain as the Mountaineer offense churned out 655 yards of total offense and the only time Smith got touched was when the coaching staff and his teammates congratulated him following a score in WVU's 69-34 win.
Photo by Jim Butta
West Virginia senior offensive linemen Joe Madsen and Josh Jenkins, right, take a break during the Mountaineers’ 69-34 win over Marshall University in the Friends of Coal Bowl at Mountaineer Field on Saturday.
"It's simple," explained running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "He (Alston) is healthy and our front five have a lot of game experience and they did a great job during the spring and summer of developing a lot of chemistry and it showed out there today."
Alston, who missed last year's weather-shortened 34-13 win over the Thundering Herd, played like a man-on-a-mission as the Virginia native made his presence felt from the Mountaineers' first possession until being lifted from the game with WVU holding onto a comfortable advantage heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
His first carry went for a 10-yard gain and a first down as Smith and Company put together a 9-play, 94-yard scoring drive and never looked back in raising their record in the series to 12-0.
"He (Alston) got himself in good shape during the offseason," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's healthy, he feels good, he's a leader and he thinks he's the baddest dude on the field. He thinks he's the boss in the locker room, which he probably is. Just a guy who is a tremendous leader at this point."
Alston, who rushed for 416 yards and 12 touchdowns on 97 attempts in 2011, did the lion's share of his damage in WVU's 34-point first half, rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown. West Virginia finished with 331 yards on 35 carries against a Herd defense that had limited it to 42 yards on 26 carries a season ago.
"It (the running game) did a great job today and having the threat of a running game that can put up numbers like that can only be helpful in the future," added Gillespie. "A lot of the credit goes to Shawne and Andrew (Buie), but our front five did a great job of opening holes and protecting Geno."
A feeling echoed by Holgorsen.
"It's about as balanced as you can be, with 300-plus yards in rushing and passing," Holgorsen said. "We spread the ball around to a lot of people. It's nice to have a guy like Shawne Alston, who's hard to tackle and it's good to have a guy like that with a bunch of offensive linemen that are able to establish the line of scrimmage."
All-in-all it was a record-setting performance. Here are just a few: