Marshall-West Virginia Matchup And Analysis

Saturday, September 2, the long-awaited football series between Marshall and West Virginia will finally move past the talking, signing, discussing and, in some parts of the state, cussing phase into the playing of football phase. WVU is coming off an 11-1 season, with a huge victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Herd suffered its first losing season since 1983 in Mark Snyder's first season.

Let's look at each team's depth chart and match-up these two in-state rivals in this first meeting since 1997, the second since 1923 and the sixth all-time since game one in 1911. Can Marshall pull an upset in football to match back-to-back upsets of the West Virginia basketball team, ranked and Sweet 16 bound the last two seasons? Let's take a look:

Herd players Mark Patton (33), Chris Ross and Marshall fans celebrate a second-straight upset of the Mountaineers in the annual men's game in Charleston last by Matt Riley for Herd Insider

Marshall offensive front versus West Virginia defensive front

Marshall is large across the offensive line, and experienced on especially the left side. LT Seth Cook has 22 starts, LG David Ziegler has 11 and C Doug Legursky has 12. RG Brian Leggett has one start and played in four games while RT Wesley Jones is a juco senior who appeared in five games, but has no starts for MU. TE Brian Shope has only one start, but has appeared in 20 games over the past two seasons and is considered the second-best blocker behind Legursky.

WVU also has experience in the front of the 3-3-5 stack defense in DT Kelen Dykes, a three-year starter who has 18 career starts. NG Pat Liebig has just one start and DT Johnny Dingle has no starts after transferring to WVU from Florida in 2004. Backup NG Craig Wilson had 10 starts at DE in '05. Weight-wise, the Herd averages 310 pounds across the front versus 272 for the Mountaineer front. Look for Marshall to try and establish the run with RB Ahmad Bradshaw, QB Bernard Morris and FB Will Albin, much like the West Virginia offense will against the MU front. WVU also sends a backer on nearly every down, so Marshall's OL must pick those up.

Quarterback Bernard Morris leads the Marshall offense against West Virginia, who led the Big East in 2005 in scoring defense and rush defense and finished second in total defense.

Marshall offensive against West Virginia defense

The WVU defense held teams to only 17.8 points per game and 311 yards of offense in 2005, but occasionally allowed big games to rushing teams. After keeping its first four opponents under 100 yards rushing, Virginia Tech ran for 214 yards (just slightly less than the Hokies ran for on Herd). Rutgers gained 124 on the ground, Louisville 182 yards, Pitt 122, South Florida 149 and Georgia 224. Those team scored 153 points of the 214 points allowed on the season by the Mountaineers on offense. Marshall averaged 127 per game on the ground, with Bradshaw having three of his 100-plus games in the final five. Morris is bigger (225 versus 205 in '05) and more experienced and the Herd has added a fullback for a featured lead blocker in 2006. Mark Snyder spoke Tuesday when addressing the WVU speed by saying West Virginia would have to match speed with his offense, not just MU matching WVU's speed on offense.

Also look for the Herd passing game to be able to exploit the young CB for West Virginia better than WVU's ability to exploit a similar situation on the MU side, as Marshall threw for 2,256 yards to West Virginia's 1,398. Morris hit for 114 completions for 1,121 yards and six scores, while Pat White threw for 65 completions for 828 yards and eight scores. Both were their team's second leading ground gainer and scorer in the rushing offense. WVU will have lots of experience in MLB Jay Henry, WLB Kevin McLee and SS Eric Wicks, but almost none at both CB, FS, BS and SLB. Mountaineers and Herd matchup very evenly in size at defensive backs versus receivers, both teams averaging between 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-3 at those positions.

WVU offensive front versus Marshall defensive front

The standard line on Coach Rich Rodriguez's OL was smaller and quicker, but this year, at least, WVU has some very good size on that front and, like Marshall, three of five linemen have significant starts. WVU averages 294 across the OL, with red-shirt frosh LG Greg Isdaner going 315 pounds. Senior C Dan Mozes is a pre-season All-American in the middle, with 10 starts there last year and 26 the two previous years at guard. Local product Jeremy Sheffey, from Boyd County (Ky.), has 21 starts at RG and LT Ryan Stanchek had eight starts, although at guard, last season. Isdaner and RT Jake Figner, a soph, have zero starts and almost no playing time. TE Michael Villagrana has two starts last year and just one catch, a TD versus Va. Tech.

Albert McClellan, shown against Kansas State in 2005, leads an experienced Marshall front against the high-powered WVU offense at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday.

The MU front seven went from zero returning starters to three returners on the front four, with the other starter at DT is now the backup, and three returning linebackers, abeit one now at a new position. Leading tackler Dennis Thornton, at WLB last year, is now the nickel for the Herd in a effort, said Snyder, to get the best 11 on the field. WLB this year is Matt Couch, who was second in tackles at MLB last year, while SLB Ian Hoskins had four starts and recorded 15 tackles. MLB Josh Johnson has no starts, but transfers from Georgia Military after one year at Georgia, where he came out of the 2005 spring as the starter for the Bulldogs at MLB before leaving the team. DE Shavar Greer and Albert McClellan teamed for 11 starts and McClellan was a Conference USA All-Freshman team member with 40 tackles and three sacks. Mammoth defensive tackles Juan Underwood (nine starts, 37 tackles, 3.5 sacks), at 330 pounds, and Chris Terrell (15 tackles and one start), at 330 pounds, return but Terrell is starting and Underwood is backing up Byron Tinker, who won the job in the spring after recording only one tackle in his first two seasons. Also in the mix are backup DEs Ryland Wilson, a juco, and red-shirt frosh John Jacobs. The MU DL weighs in at an average of 270, from Greer at 228 to Terrell at 330, or more. WVU will try to establish the run with White (952 rushing and seven scores), running back Steve Slaton (1,128 yards and 17 scores) and fullback Owen Schmitt, a 6-foot-3, 250 pounder who did not have a negative yardage run in 48 tries last year.

West Virginia offense versus Marshall defense

The Mountaineers rolled up 389 yards of offense last year and averaged 32 points per game in 11 wins, including 38 points dropped on the Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome at the moved-due-to-Katrina Sugar Bowl. White and Slaton are being mentioned for All-American and Heisman possiblities and another year of similar numbers will bring those types of honors. They also took care of the ball, losing only 10 fumbles in 12 games and throwing just seven interceptions, a plus 14 for WVU. West Virginia scored 37 of 54 trips to the Red Zone, 27 coming on the ground. You cannot fall asleep on the passing game, however 5-foot-10 junior WR Daruis Reynaud scored five of the 12 receiving touchdowns last year, with 30 catches for 297 yards. 6-foot-3, 190 Brandon Myles had three touchdown, 34 catches for 536 yards and the long TD of 50 yards through the air. They like to lure a defense to sleep with the run, then pop the pass and Marshall's defense will have to match speed-for-speed with WVU to slow this attack.

The MU defense led Conference USA in total defense, allowing 341 per game. The run defense, however, was weak especially late when MU allowed Memphis to rush for 243 yards (behind All-American DeAngelo Williams) and East Carolina to rush for 245 in two of the three losses that ended 2005. The Herd is hoping by moving Thorton to nickel will help a pair of young corners in J.J. Johnson, who started two games at nickel in 2005, and red-shirt frosh Zearrick Mathews at the other in his first start at WVU. The speed of MU's linebackers may be the best in school history, to go along with the greatest size across the board, and the depth for that defensive unit is also a huge change from last year, as no fewer than 16 of the 22 in the two-deep played last season. The Herd defense may be the key in the early season, with powerful running attacks at WVU, Kansas State and Tennessee in three of the first four weeks. Snyder truly believes his defense will be much improved for 2006.

What does it all add up to? Hopefully, a whale of a game to kick-start the in-state rivalry with big hits, big plays and, on the MU side at least, an upset even bigger than the last two MU-WVU men's basketball games. For WVU, a chance to show the nation they truly belong in the top five or ten and will challenge for the national title. It should be great fun Saturday.

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