HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – BlueGoldNews.com picks the outstanding players and performances in the West Virginia - Marshall game
West Virginia had two major playmakers when it didn't seem anyone else would emerge. The first shot an offensive gap and created a quick exit. The second shot a defensive gap and made a quick exit – into the end zone for each of West Virginia's first two scores.
Linebacker Reed Williams' hit of Darius Marshall and the resulting fumble, recovered by free safety Ryan Mundy, led to West Virginia's second touchdown in as many drives in the second half and gave the No. 4 Mountaineers (2-0) a 27-16 lead late in the third quarter. Williams finished with a game-high 8.5 tackles (two solo and 13 assisted) including two for losses of four yards. The sheer numbers indicate his ability to be in and around every play. What's not as apparent was Williams' sideline talk with coordinator Jeff Casteel that led to the fumble recovery.
Williams had been run by three times by different MYU backs on the previous Herd possession. He and Casteel talked about fitting the odd stack set up better against Marshall's surprising switch from a spread look to the power I in the second half. That slight switch allowed Williams to shoot an unblocked gap, get a hand on the ball and rip it from Marshall's grasp. The recovery at midfield set the offense, which again clicked for a second straight drive, punching the ball into the end zone on a series of quick setup running plays.
When the offense was struggling, head coach Rich Rodriguez said there was only one player who truly kept the Mountaineers in the game. Receiver Darius Reynaud, who tallied 126 yards to eclipse his previous career high of 110, set versus East Carolina last year, took a slant pattern for a score on West Virginia's opening possession. That was the lone WVU score, however, of the first half and was actually called as a play switch because of the Herd's one-on-one outside coverage. Reynaud had caught three passes by the end of the first quarter, keeping WVU's offense from total stagnation when tailback Steve Slaton was held to just three yards on thee carries.
"(Reynaud) kept us in the game when we couldn't run the ball," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He is such a gifted guy in the open field. He is always a threat to score. He has running back skills."
Reynaud, ironically, who broke out against East Carolina, was in a similar situation versus Marshall (0-2). The Herd was tackling well in the open field, as had the Pirates, which limited Slaton and the effectiveness of the running game. Reynaud finished with eight catches for the 126 along with two touchdowns. The second came on West Virginia's initial second-half series, when it needed some momentum to stem the tide of Marshall momentum. Reynaud shook loose and split two defenders, breaking a jersey tackle along the way to score from 23 yards out. From there, Williams' fumble recovery and the resulting offensive touchdown began to finish the game.
Patrick White. White played through a wrist sprain and struggled with pain throughout the game because of a physical Marshall defense. The passer completed 13 of 18 for 149 yards and two scores. Both were to Reynaud, who showcased his flash and dash skills. White also – again – helped secure the win by securing the ball. His runs totaling 26 yards on the first fourth quarter drive helped lead to the score that made it 34-23. That came two possessions after he waited behind blocks, then accelerated up a seam to score from 20 yards out to regain the edge, 20-16.
Keilen Dykes. It wasn't so much for what he did, but rather what he didn't. The odd stack defense took a noticeable hit up front when Dykes was forced to leave the game with a foot sprain. Thor Merrow played well, but Marshall's middle line was able to move him much easier, thus establishing additional running room. It was when Dykes left that the Herd went to more power sets, attacking an obvious weakness. In his limited time, Dykes made 2.5 tackles and was at least creating a stalemate with MU center and Rimington candidate Doug Legursky.
Steve Slaton. The back wasn't his usually brilliant self. In fact, this will probably be considered one of his lesser games. And that's shocking, considering he finished with 146 yards and two touchdowns. His yardage made him just the third back in Mountaineer history to run for more than 3,000 yards in his career (Avon Cobourne and Amos Zereoue) and his scores moved him within five of the all-time record. The junior also played better as the game progressed, not allowing the rough-and-tumble defense to bother him physically or mentally. There weren't any highlight runs. What there was was solid, steady running late into the game. That's what West Virginia most needed.
Mike Dent – and company. The offensive line had very little push and less success in the opening 30 minutes. It pulled a 180, moving the Herd off the ball and creating better running lanes in the second half. It also proved its mettle conditioning-wise, holding up late into the game when the MU front seven was wilting in the 90-plus degree heat. It did protect White well, and when the halftime adjustments were implemented, West Virginia began to finally assert its running will. That, essentially, ended any Herd threat.