WVU domination shouldn't be Moced

The smoke having cleared both from the helmet and the field, the 56-7 blowout of Tennessee-Chattanooga could only be called a success. With a crowd of more than 54,000, a twilight kickoff and fireworks on and of the field, WVU rolled to a 1-0 start in the most lopsided opening performance since a 55-3 pasting of Ohio in 1983.

Since 1980 WVU has won 15 openers and gone to bowl games in 11 of those seasons. And though the road might be more difficult this year, the Mountaineers looked the part of a bowl team as it racked up 560 yards of total offense, ran 85 plays -- a 6.6-yard average – and showed flashes of very good play on both sides.

"It's good to get a game in," Rodriguez said. "We ran a lot of different formations, gave a lot of looks and we kept it simple."

All that is geared toward this week's game with Wisconsin, and most fans were probably thinking about the Badgers at the half. But this showing, thought it didn't prove anything except that WVU isn't awful, shouldn't be relegated to the back burner.

Though the Mocs are one of the least challenging foes ever to come into Mountaineer Field, West Virginia did what it was supposed to in building a 35-0 lead by the break and coming within one final play of a shutout.

"I think our kids played hard," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I was proud of them because I thought they were really focused."

That's been the team's catchphrase all week, and for the most part it held. Seventy-five Mountaineers played. Seven scored and there were no major injuries to the two-deep.

Mistakes, while made, weren't prevalent and at no time did WVU bog down offensively (scoring on its first three possessions) or struggle to stop UTC. It was, in short, a dominating performance, as expected.

The biggest problem was WVU's three fumbles, though one, by backup quarterback Danny Embick, was picked up by Cassel Smith and carried 43 yards for a touchdown. That fourth-quarter score made it 42-0, and by then WVU's subs were in full force. The Mountaineers scored two more times to lead 56-0 before UTC backup signal caller Justin Barnes' five-yard touchdown pass to Joey Peters ended the game.

The late scores were icing, but the key plays were early, when WVU faced two early third-down situations in its initial drive and converted them to get the offense rolling. UTC won the toss and deferred, and its short kickoff was fielded by Adam King at the 16 and returned 15 yards to the 31. The Mountaineers immediately went twice to Avon Cobourne, who carried for three of his game-high 106 yards.

Facing a third and seven from the 34, quarterback Rasheed Marshall found Dee Alston for 21 yards and a first down to the UTC 45. It was the sophomore's first of 14 completions on 22 passes. Marshall finished with 163 passing yards to lead the offense.

"Overall I felt real comfortable out there," he said. "I was confident and I had a chance to make some plays."

After two consecutive incompletions later in the drive, Marshall connected with favorite target Miquelle Henderson for 15 yards and a first down inside the red zone. From there Marshall rushed for five yards before Cobourne gained six to set up a first and goal at the nine-yard line.

WVU was pushed back because of a holding call a play later, but on second and goal from the 18 Mike Page hauled in Marshall's first of three touchdown passes to make it 7-0 with 9:48 to play in the opening quarter.

Page would finish with a team-high four receptions for 37 yards. If that seems low, consider 11 players caught at least one of 17 completed passes and that the longest throw of the day was 33 yards to John Pennington (for a 49-0 lead with 8:40 left).

West Virginia got on the board again 3:38 later, on a short Cobourne rush setup by Mo Howard's diving punt block up the middle and Mike Henshaw's recovery after UTC went three-and-out.

"You can't give them 14 points to start the game," UTC head coach Donnie Kirkpatrick said. "We needed breaks and didn't get them. We needed to block their punt, and instead they block ours."

The 14-0 lead deflated any notions of a Moc upset, and a 21-point outburst in the second quarter put the game away.

Chattanooga took a timeout after a solid drive stalled before going for it on fourth and one. When quarterback Ryan McCann, a UCLA transfer, missed Cortez Rankin, WVU took over and drove a workmanlike 68 yards in eight plays to move ahead 21-0.

Marshall picked up one first down on the ground with a six-yard keeper on third and three before hitting Page for seven yards and Ryan Thomas for 29 to move the ball to the UTC 14-yard line. Two Cobourne rushes later the senior cashed in for his second and last score of the game and the Mountaineers led 21-0.

"He's so smooth," Kirkpatrick said. "You think he's got nothing and then all of the sudden he turns it into five. He reminds us of Thurman Thomas."

Cobourne would play the first series of the second half, be pulled so Smith could see time, then be reinserted for one seven-yard carry when it was realized he had 99 yards on the day.

The scoring settled for three possessions before WVU went back to the ground and popped Cobourne for his longest run of the day at 26 yards on first down. Marshall gained nine stripes on the next tote, and, with an added personal foul call, WVU was again in UTC territory at the 47.

Cobourne carried for 10 yards before, two plays later, Marshall hit fullback Moe Fofana for a six-yard scoring strike.

The 28-0 cushion looked ready to expand again after another three-and-out and a 10-play, 50-yard drive. It was halted on fourth and one from the 33, when Marshall fumbled and was forced to recover the ball and eat the play, giving the Mocs possession.

It wasn't for long, however, as on first down McCann rolled across the field and looked to a wideout running a drag pattern. The signal caller never saw Grant Wiley's backside pursuit, and the linebacker timed the throw just right, diving in front of the receiver and snaring the ball before hitting the turf.

It was WVU's first interception of the year, and setup the last score on a short field. From the 47, Marshall and tight end Josh Bailey played pitch and catch on the first and last play of the five-play march. Marshall hit Bailey for 13 yards, then found him again for 16 and a touchdown that brought the first half scoring to a close.

The stats were dominating, and aside from the names, not much changed in the second half. The Mocs crossed the 50 one time in the first half on seven possessions, and didn't manage the feat in the second half until the last possession of the game, when UTC went 65 yards on 11 plays to score and break the shutout.

It was second team vs. second and third team by that point, and Barnes led a 5:45 drive that ended with the pass to Peters for a touchdown to make it 56-7.

UTC was picked twice in the second half, and both set up late scores.

"I'm not one who likes to come in here and complain about the things our guys did wrong," Kirkpatrick said. "I have to give them credit. They just played better." The final numbers were worlds apart, and though there's no point in rehashing them here, it's simply staggering the difference in some, like the 30-7 edge in first downs or the 332-52 yard difference on the ground.

"It's a nice win in the first game of the season against a team we were supposed to beat," Rodriguez said.

But no question, thoughts quickly turned to Wisconsin and WVU's major early road test. "Wisconsin," he added, "is a totally different animal."

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