Things changed after the break, as the Mountaineers scored three second half touchdowns -- two of which were Noel Devine runs -- to pull away and ensure that Marshall's streak of futility against the state's flagship university would continue.
Smith ended the game 15-of-21 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown. Ten of his completions and 117 of his yards came in the second half on only 12 attempts.
|This game recap presented by The Book Exchange|
The nature of the injury that kept Brown out of the remainder of the game was not clarified by the head coach, who did not use the term "concussion" to describe it.
Still, that adversity led to a rocky first half. Order was restored quickly at the start of the third quarter. The WVU defense forced a quick three-and-out, and a short punt by MU's Kase Whitehead left the Mountaineers with the ball at the Herd's 46-yard line.
After Smith rushed for 12 yards, the team failed to gain any yardage on three plays from the Marshall 28-yard line. On fourth down, Stewart opted to keep his offense on the field instead of kicking 45-yard field goal.
Smith made good on the extra opportunity, just fighting through a shoestring tackle attempt before finding Jock Sanders in the middle of the field for 14 yards and a first down.
On the very next play, Devine ran almost untouched around left end for a 14-yard touchdown, finally giving West Virginia its first lead of the game at 10-7.
After an exchange of punts, Marshall took off on another long drive, gaining 28 yards on the first play of the possession when a pass from Anderson to Slate was ruled complete after a replay review. The pass had originally been ruled incomplete.
The drive appeared to be in trouble when a bad snap over the head of Darius Marshall (who was lined up at quarterback in his team's "racehorse" formation -- its iteration of the "wildcat" offense) forced MU into a second-and-23 situation.
Anderson atoned for the bad snap, hitting Slate for gains of 17 and seven yards on second and third downs, respectively, to move the chains and put the offense in good position at the WVU 18-yard line.
But a six yard loss on a Darius Marshall rush and another bad snap (this time over the head of Anderson) that cost MU 17 yards proved too much to overcome.
On third-and-33, Anderson went to Slate once more, but the tight end coughed the ball up and J.T. Thomas recovered to stop the threat.
Smith finally was able to make some plays down the field on the ensuing drive, hitting a wide open Wes Lyons for 29 yards on the first snap of the possession. Four plays later, the freshman signal-caller threw a perfect strike to Alric Arnett for a 33-yard touchdown.
Arnett was well-covered on the play, but Smith put the ball in great position, hitting the receiver in stride on a pass that dropped in just over his shoulder in the middle of the end zone. WVU led 17-7 with 12:31 left in the final period.
"Geez, that was just a great throw and catch," said MU coach Mark Snyder. "That was great coverage. It was just a really good throw."
The scoring drive essentially put the game out of reach, as Marshall's offense had shown few signs of being able to consistently crack the WVU defense.
"We needed to close the door and put the hammer down," Stewart said. "At 10-7, I told the staff that if we got to 17 (points), I didn't think they could handle their defense."
West Virginia added insurance in the form of a nine-yard Devine run with 3:43 remaining in the game, capping a nine-play, 4:33 drive that gave the home team a 24-7 lead.
The next-to-last play of the possession, a second-and-eight play from the MU 9-yard line, was Smith's first incomplete pass since his team's opening drive of the second half.
That was made all the more impressive by the fact that the West Virginia staff saw fit to unleash Smith and the offense in the final 30 minutes, going with a more aggressive attack.
"I was pleased with our aggressive offensive play-calling in the second half," Stewart said. "You cannot play on eggshells in college football or be intimidated into a lack of aggression."
"You cannot play not to lose. You have to play to win."
An ugly win was beautiful in the eyes of Stewart, who watched his team sputter early with its star quarterback on the sidelines.
On the fourth play of the game, Brown scrambled around 12 yards for an apparent conversion on a third-and-eight play.
Opting not to slide to the turf, he fought for extra yards and was hit on the helmet by a pair of MU players. The impact forced the ball loose from his hands, and the Herd's DeQuan Bembry recovered at his team's 36-yard line.
Brown remained on the field for some time after the play before making his way to the sidelines. He would not return to action.
Marshall then went on the attack, staying alive on its ensuing drive after a face mask penalty gave the offense an automatic first down on a play on which Whitehead had punted.
Anderson managed his team just well enough, converting on three third-down plays -- the last of which was a 12-yard scamper by the quarterback for a touchdown to give MU a stunning 7-0 lead.
With Brown forced to the bench, Smith struggled to lead the Mountaineer offense.
The Herd defenders keyed on Devine and the running game, and with WVU's freshman quarterback struggling to make things happen through the air, the home team didn't get its second first down of the game until only 2:34 remained in the opening half.
Forced into numerous three-and-outs, the offense didn't run its 16th overall play (the same number of plays Marshall ran on its first drive) until 5:02 remained in the first half.
Coordinator Jeff Casteel's defense did just enough to keep its teammates in the game as Brandon Hogan recovered a Darius Marshall fumble inside the West Virginia 10-yard line and later intercepted an Anderson pass near midfield.
Hogan's return on the interception put his team in good position at the MU 35-yard line, and momentum seemed to be turning when Devine rushed 15 yards on the first play of the possession.
The unit stalled, however, and the Mountaineers had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt that narrowed the home team's deficit to 7-3 at the half.
From that point, momentum had turned. Marshall would not add any points to its side of the scoreboard in the final 49:20 of the game.
Anderson ended the game 17-of-35 passing for only 149 yards. He was picked off twice.
Darius Marshall, who entered the game as the nation's second-leading rusher in terms of average yards per game, was held to 82 yards on his 25 carries -- an average of only 3.3 yards per tote. It was the second-straight game he was held under 100 yards on the ground.
Slate grabbed 10 passes for 102 receiving yards. Only one other Marshall player had any more than six yards receiving.
Still, the fact that the visitors held a halftime edge for the second time since the Friends of Coal Bowl series was renewed in 2006 gave the Herd something positive to take away.
"We have to bottle this feeling up and take it back to Huntington with us," said Snyder. "That was a very confident group going against a very good football team. I hadn't sensed that since I have been here."