MORGANTOWN - The question all season long for West Virginia's high-scoring offense has been what would it do without fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Brown.
After a shaky first 30 minutes of action, true freshman quarterback Eugene Smith led the Mountaineers to 21 second half points as WVU kept its unbeaten streak alive in its series with in-state rival Marshall with a 24-7 victory.
Needless to say, the Marshall dressing room was filled with players who knew the Herd had just squandered a good opportunity at pulling off a major upset.
"We let this one slip away," senior defensive end Albert McClelland explained after the Thundering Herd's ninth straight loss in the series that began in 1911. "This one really hurts. We had our chances and we didn't get the job done."
That chance came on West Virginia's fourth play of the game when a big hit on Brown by Marshall senior defensive back Ashton Hall not only resulted in WVU's 10th lost fumble on the season, but an injury to Brown that relegated him to the sidelines for the remainder of the game.
"That (the hit) was the big play we needed early," Marshall head coach Mark Snyder said. "But, they still ran their offense. They didn't vary offense a bit for the freshman."
Marshall sophomore defensive back DeQuan Bembry came up with the loose ball while Brown was sprawled on the artificial surface at Milan Puskar Stadium for several minutes.
Brown was able to walk off under his own steam, but WVU's offense failed to survive the loss as Smith - as well as the entire Mountaineer offense - struggled to gain any consistency.
Making matters worse for the hosts was a 12-yard scramble by Marshall senior quarterback Brian Anderson for the game's first points eight minutes later.
"We got the turnover we needed and then we got the score we needed," continued Snyder. "But, we just weren't able to carry it over to the second half."
The first 30 minutes of action concluded with Marshall holding a 7-3 edge on the scoreboard and a commanding 19:21 to 10:39 edge in time of possession and the Thundering Herd prevent unit limiting WVU to a measly 84 yards of total offense on only 21 plays.
Only a late interception by Brandon Hogan kept WVU from heading into the intermission scoreless while Marshall made the Mountaineers pay for a huge personal foul face mask call on its first punt of the game that allowed the green and white-clad visitors to put together its only scoring drive of the half.
"It (the locker room) was pretty positive," Marshall junior tight end Lee Smith said of the halftime mood. "We had the lead and they (WVU) was having to play without one of their best players. We just knew we had to come out in the second half and continue to put pressure on them."
That strateg failed as Smith, who completed 15-of-21 attempts for 147 yards and one touchdown, and junior running back Noel Devine paced WVU to the comeback victory.
"Our defense played very well," Snyder said. "In fact it played extremely well against a very, very good offense.
"There were some good performances out there today on both sides of the ball. We just didn't take advantage of the chances we were given."
Marshall will look to get back in the winning column when it entertains the University of Alabama-Birmingham at noon on Saturday.