West Virginia ground up the Herd last year, gaining 312 yards to just 154 for Marshall in Morgantown, in a 42-10 opening game win over Marshall. While the Mountaineers lead the all-time series 6-0, only one other game has ever been played in Huntington. The No. 3-ranked WVU Mountaineers routed Western Michigan, 62-24, on Saturday in Morgantown while the Herd was falling to the finest defensive front the program may have ever faced in the Hurricanes of Miami.
WVU back Owen Schmitt looked for rushing room in last year's Friends of Coal Bowl in Morgantown.
The Herd will now face the same talented backfield of West Virginia as last year. Quarterback Patrick White, running back Steve Slaton and fullback/tight end Owen Schmidt put up 191 yards rushing against the MU defense in the first half last season. Slaton led all rushers with 203 and two touchdowns, while White threw for two scores on 10-of-14 for 168 passing and ran for 48 yards. It looked much the same in the 2007 opener with the Broncos, as Slaton had 109 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns, three rushing. White hit for 10-of-18 passes for 192 yards passing, and ran for 97 more yards, and also accounted for four touchdowns in the highest scoring WVU opener since 1988. It was the most points scored by a Rich Rodriguez team since they beat Rutgers 80-7 in 2001.
"Our intensity and focus was good,"said Rodriguez on the Big East Coaches Call this morning. "We were pretty pleased with the win. There were the typical first game mistakes in all three phases. We played a lot of players. The competition gets tougher each week." Rodriguez also understands the significance of playing in Huntington to Marshall fans. "Obviously, its been a long time since we went down there. We expect to take a great shot from them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Mark Snyder and his staff, and I know Steve Dunlap. He's an excellent coach who has been in a lot of big arenas. He's got his defense flying around making plays. It will be a very intense atmosphere."
Chubb Small looked for running room in the first half against WVU in the 2006 opener. Small will look to lead Marshall to its first win in the series Saturday in Huntington.
The Marshall players know they have to learn from the mistakes, like interceptions and penalties, against Miami and improve to play with the highly ranked Mountaineers. Defensively, Marshall did not miss many tackles, a problem in last year's game with West Virginia. "That's all Coach Snyder preached is tackling. Hit drill after hit drill," said cornerback Ashton Hall. "The safeties played great, C.J. Spillman made hit after hit after hit." Spillman led Marshall in tackles with nine, while Hall led all tacklers with six solo stops. "I think we were pretty sound fundamentally against Miami. Everyone went out and tried to execute the game plan."
Bernard Morris is glad the game with West Virginia is finally here, as he has heard about this match-up in Huntington since last year's game. "Everyone was asking us about the WVU game even before we went to Miami," said Morris. "Just make sure you beat WVU. I wish we had got a win against Miami, but now we have West Virginia and we have got to get focused and try to come out with a W." Morris was sacked five times and knocked down twice that much during the Miami game. He passed for 162 ards on 16-of-26, but had three interceptions. Two of those were plays where the ball went off another players hand, and an unbelievable play by Calais Campbell, Miami's 6-foot-8 defensive end.
"Last year, we played WVU first and we didn't know what to expect. Now, we see how good they are and what mistakes we have to correct." Morris threw for one touchdown and 168 yards against WVU's 3-3-5 stack defense, but Marshall was limited on the ground. "I didn't realize last year against these guys, I was never sacked. We have to get better, I don't care even if I throw for 300 yards. We are going to try to go out there and attack them with whatever game plan Coach Kueck comes up with, and just execute that and be a better team. You won't see me get hit a lot of times like I did (against Miami). Playing against a D-Line like Miami will make you better and I expect them to be a lot better next week." Morris pulls no punches about the game this week with WVU. "I want to beat them. They think they have the better players up there, but we have good athletes here. We have some guys who would go up there and start right away. I just want to beat these guys in the most talked about thing in I don't know how long. All I've heard since last year is to beat WVU this year. I want to be No. 1 in the state."
Some Marshall players reacted defensively in fans being critical of the effort by Morris. John Inman said the offensive line took full responsibility for the sacks and hits on the quarterbacks. Freshman running back Darius Marshall, who totaled 89 all-purpose yards in running, receiving and kick returns in his first college game, defends his quarterback's play against Miami. "We have got to get better at running back, at receiver and on the offensive line, as a whole," said Marshall. "The O-line did a great job for the first game. We just have to refrain from penalties. People who are getting down on Bernie, I think Bernie did a great job. It was not just his fault, it was the offense as a whole. We just have to come together this week." Marshall spoke directly to the fans in his final comments. "I think Bernie's a great leader. He has been through a lot of adversity to get where he is. For him to be a leader and be voted captain of this team says a lot about him. He never got down during the game (at Miami), he never blamed everyone. He took it to his heart and just said he had to get better. That's how a team has to be, to grow from its mistakes and get better and encourage everyone to get better. Not one time did he blame the offensive line, the receivers or the running backs. He will do whatever it takes to win. He has a long future, both with Marshall football and I hope in the National Football League."
The Marshall defense blocked this Pat McAfee field goal attempt to end the first half in last year's Marshall at West Virginia match-up, the first of a seven-game series that moves to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the first time, and only the second game in Huntington in the series which dates back to 1911.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The U.S. Army will parachute the game ball in, while the U.S. Marine Corps will do a pre-game fly-over in F18 jets. The Herd will also have a new entrance, with music and videos on the Herd Vision scoreboard. The tailgate begins at 9 a.m. in the West Parking Lot with the West Virginia Jeep Dealers Tailgate Show on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network, heard locally on 93.7 FM, The Dawg, and WRVC 930 AM, ESPN for the Tri-State. Friday night there will be a free concert at Pullman Square featuring Lonestar and Thursday night at Gino's Pub, the Mark Snyder Call-In Show at 7 p.m. will be preceded by a pep rally starting at 5 p.m.