KICKOFF: Friday, 7 ET
SERIES: West Virginia leads 9-0.
POLLS: West Virginia (23 AP, 22 USA Today)
PREDICTION: West Virginia 31-21
KEYS TO THE GAME
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
West Virginia's offense wasn't particularly effective against Coastal Carolina, a Division 1-AA opponent, despite gaining 400 yards and scoring 31 points. The offensive line, in particular, did not dominate and that kept RB Noel Devine from having a big day. He did finish with 111 yards but most of them came on three carries in the fourth quarter. The WVU speed, however, is apparent and they showed enough reverses that Marshall will have to spread out, perhaps making them unable to key on Devine. Freshman QB Geno Smith was effective but not flashy and he has experience against Marshall, having been brought in last year early in the game after Jarrett Brown suffered a concussion. However, this is a different Marshall defense under a new coaching staff.
After shutting out Coastal Carolina, WVU's first home shutout since 1997, some are calling this the best Mountaineer defense since 1996's team led the nation. That, however, remains to be proven. However, it is a defense with a great amount of speed, one that now gets out of its basic 3-3-5 alignment into two different prevent defenses, much as the NFL uses a nickel and dime. The six-DB defense allows them to get four safeties on the field at once, giving them great speed.
Marshall's offense failed to move the ball much against Ohio State, scoring just seven points on a special teams play, and finished with 199 yards on offense. Brian Anderson completed 18 (of 35) passes to nine different receivers for the Herd, which was victimized by three turnovers and numerous dropped balls. The Herd fumbled the opening kick that led to seven quick points for the Buckeyes. West Virginia has allowed a combined 20 points in three of the last four meetings with Marshall.
The Herd's defense had no answers for Ohio State. Marshall started true freshman James Rouse at defensive end and linebacker Kellen Harris missed the game, who was replaced by James Gale. While the Mountaineers have been stingy on defense in this rivalry in recent years, West Virginia has scored 42, 48, 27 and 24 points in the last four meetings.
Mountaineers: West Virginia is 52-13 over its last 65 games, including 27-8 in Big East play during that span ... The Mountaineers have the nation's 11th best record in college football in the last four seasons, including a 10-4 record under Coach Bill Stewart. TB Noel Devine is first nationally among active players in rushing yards, third in yards per carry and fourth in all-purpose yards, WR Jock Sanders has finished with at least one reception in 29 straight games. That streak is third in West Virginia history and 11th in the Big East Conference ... West Virginia is 36-7-1 all-time against current Conference USA members ... Since 2001, WVU has forced 263 turnovers, ranking fourth nationally. It is a major reason the team is 53-16 the last eight years.
Herd: New Marshall coach Doc Holliday served as the associate head coach at West Virginia the last two seasons before he was hired last December to replace Mark Snyder. Holliday played linebacker with the Mountaineers from 1976-78 and earned his bachelor's and master's degree there. Marshall's 119-19 home record at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (.862 winning percentage) is tops in college football. Alabama's .825 record at Bryant-Denny Stadium is second ... Marshall is 3-14 against ranked opponents in its history and has lost nine straight games to ranked foes. The Herd's most recent victory over a ranked opponent came at Kansas State on Sept. 20, 2003. West Virginia has accounted for two of those losses to ranked teams during the losing streak ... Marshall's running game was grounded against Ohio State as it produced only 44 yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Noel Devine -- Coach Bill Stewart would love to get Devine off after an unspectacular 111-yard opener. "We tried to get him his touches," Stewart said. "We want to get him in a rhythm. People expect him to go out and run for 300 yards against these guys. They spent the whole day trying to take Noel out of the game plan." While they couldn't do that, Coastal Carolina did give Marshall something to think about defensively.
WR Tavon Austin -- An electric player capable of taking the ball the distance any time he handles it, he had more than 100 yards receiving and rushing in the opener. He's Noel Devine's replacement next year and now is doing his thing as a wideout, running a lot of reverses. He's also a kickoff return specialist and already has a 98-yard TD return on his resume in just his sophomore year.
S Robert Sands -- A physical freak at 6-5 who runs like a corner and hits like a linebacker, Sands took a couple of people apart in the Coastal Carolina game, thwarting one double reverse by making a tackle for a 15-yard loss. He injured a thumb but is expected to be fine against a Marshall team that doesn't really have any way to contain him.
DE Vinny Curry: The talented senior defensive end had two sacks against Ohio State, and will try to get pressure on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, while also helping to contain the speedy Devine.
LB Kellen Harris: Marshall hopes to have Harris back after he missed last week's opener with Ohio State with an injury. Tyson Gale had six tackles in his place, but Harris, Mario Harvey and Devin Arrington comprise one of the top linebacker duos in Conference USA.
TE Lee Smith: The big tight end had just one catch for eight yards against Ohio State. Brian Anderson needs to find Smith, who isn't just a blocker, but is also as sure-handed as any receiver on the Marshall squad.
WR Antavious Wilson: The talented sophomore will be working against a veteran secondary that doesn't allow separation easily. Wilson led the Herd with five catches for just 38 yards last week.