The West Virginia Mountaineers had to overcome an injury to starting quarterback Jarrett Brown and their own early mistakes to defeat the Marshall Thundering Herd 24-7 in Morgantown on Saturday.
Brown was injured on the fourth play of the game and was unable to return. The Mountaineers then committed two crucial penalties that kept the ensuing Marshall drive alive. First was a personal foul giving the Herd a first down on a punt, and later in the same drive a defender jumped offside on a third down play that would have forced a field goal attempt. Given a second reprieve, Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson scored on the next play to give the Herd a 7-0 lead.
West Virginia was now forced to come from behind against an upset-minded opponent with an unproven quarterback--freshman Geno Smith. And indeed in the first half the Mountaineers were unable to gain any offensive rhythm, running only 21 plays and gaining but 2 first downs.
Trailing 7-3 at the half, there clearly was a sense of urgency. But Smith answered the call with an outstanding second half in which he completed 11 of 13 passes for 136 yards. None was bigger than a fourth down completion to Jock Sanders that kept alive a WVU drive. Noel Devine then scored on the next play to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the game.
Smith later made a perfect 33 yard throw to Alric Arnett, who made a sensational catch in the back of the end zone.
The WVU defense, much criticized during the season, stepped up and did its job by holding Marshall scoreless over the last three quarters while grabbing four turnovers. The most important of those was a fumble recovery inside the Mountaineer 10 yard line early in the second quarter when it appeared that Marshall was about to extend its lead to 10 or 14 points.
Injuries to key players are part of the game. In recent years when Pat White was injured during a game (key losses in 2007 to South Florida and Pitt come to mind) the Mountaineers were unable to overcome adversity and suffered upset losses. It was therefore encouraging to see the team pull itself together in the second half behind an inexperienced quarterback.
THIS SATURDAY: The Connecticut Huskies have been somewhat of a surprise in 2009, achieving a 4-2 record despite losing some key players from last season's squad to the NFL. They come off a 38-25 win over Louisville last Saturday.
The Huskies have not fared well against the Mountaineers since joining the Big East, losing all five contests by an average of 27 points. The strength of the Connecticut offense traditionally has been rushing the football, but the Mountaineer defense typically matches up much better against teams that primarily rely on the run.
A couple of factors make it difficult to predict the outcome. We won't know whether Jarrett Brown will be able to play until later in the week. Also, a Connecticut football player (a defensive starter) was killed in an incident Saturday night and it is difficult to know how the team will react to the tragedy.
West Virginia 27, Connecticut 17.