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West Virginia looks to go 11-0 against Marshall

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith doesn’t believe the Mountaineers will need the heroics of last year’s meeting when they play Marshall this time.

For No. 24 West Virginia, heading into the season opener against the Thundering Herd on Sunday, last year’s 24-21 squeaker is all but forgotten.

Trailing by 15 points to Marshall in the fourth quarter last year, Smith twice directed West Virginia on scoring drives of more than 90 yards to tie the game. The Mountaineers went on to win in overtime.

There’s no question Smith believes he could engineer something similar if called upon, although he anticipates no need for that.

What’s important to WVU quarterback is being ready to execute new head coach Dana Holgorsen’s fast-paced offense and getting the Mountaineers off to a solid start.

Holgorsen brings a reputation for getting huge production out of his quarterbacks. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden set school records for passing yards and touchdown passes last year, and Houston’s Case Keenum surpassed 5,000 passing yards both 2008 and 2009.

Smith, whose 2,763 yards and 24 TD passes last year were both the second-best in school history, also is thinking big — as in the big picture, perhaps a Big East championship and more.

“The only thing that matters in this game is winning,” he said. “It’s very apparent. You win and you get all the accolades and you’re the best in the world. You’ve got to make sure you win games.”

Smith was the reason West Virginia went 9-4 last season, carrying the team at times offensively when the running game struggled.

But he also may have been one reason the team didn’t do better. West Virginia’s offense struggled in the second half of many games. Smith threw three interceptions in a home loss to Syracuse and he had two costly turnovers in a bowl loss to North Carolina State.

To Smith, that was so long ago, just like previous Marshall games.

Last year he went 17 of 22 for 168 yards in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Two years ago as a freshman, Smith got the first extensive snaps of his career when Jarrett Brown was injured, leading the Mountaineers on four scoring drives in a 24-7 win over Marshall.

“Really that’s something I never think about at all,” Smith said. “I’ve been in those situations a couple of times before. One thing I know about the game is that it’s not over until the final whistle blows. That’s not something I really don’t dwell on or think about because it really doesn’t matter right now.”

What does matter is West Virginia is 10-0 against Marshall all time and looking to establish itself under Holgorsen during a rare Sunday game on national TV before the NFL regular season takes over.

One thing’s for sure. Historically, Holgorsen doesn’t hold back. His philosophy is that if something is working, use it again and again. And if it doesn’t, try something else.

As offensive coordinator, his last three teams won their season openers by an average score of 58-9.

“We need to make sure our excitement level is high,” Holgorsen said. “It’s part of the challenge of getting your guys ready to play every week.”

Despite the lopsided series, Marshall has been able to stay with West Virginia for much of the game, leading at halftime or later in three of their last four meetings.

But the Thundering Herd are expecting the brunt of Hurricane Holgorsen.

“They’re the most talented team in that league,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “Coach Holgorsen’s been successful wherever he’s been. He’s done a nice job of going in and taking the personnel he has available to him and adapting it to his offense.”

Holliday, a former West Virginia assistant coach who recruited Smith, will return to Mountaineer Field for the first time since leaving two years ago.

Marshall will debut freshman Rakeem Cato at quarterback and both teams will have new running backs. West Virginia will rotate three freshmen and may play as many as seven. Holliday hasn’t announced whether he’ll go with either freshman Travon Van or sophomore Tron Martinez.

Holliday expects Cato, who won a state championship last year at Miami (Fla.) Central High, to do fine.

“He grew up in a tough area and has been through a lot of adversity in his life,” Holliday said. “I think that will carry over to the playing field this season. He’s a mentally tough kid and I think he will handle it well.”