Reversal Of Roles

A year ago, Doc Holliday very nearly began his tenure as Marshall's head coach with a bang. MU almost knocked off West Virginia before it let a 15-point fourth quarter lead slip away in Holliday's first home game as the leader of the Thundering Herd. Now, the WVU alumnus and long-time Mountaineer assistant will bring the Herd to Morgantown and attempt to spoil Dana Holgorsen's debut.

The sting of disappointment Holliday and Herd fans felt after last season's 24-21 overtime loss at Huntington's Joan C. Edwards Stadium was apparent then. But as time passed, many expected MU to take at least a moral victory out of that near-miss.

But reporters who asked Holliday if he or his team could take anything positive away from that experience of a season ago against the Mountaineers were promptly shot down.

"I don't think you ever learn anything by losing a football game," he replied. "I didn't learn a daggone thing, to be honest with you. It's losing a game, and you're expected to win the game. We go into every game we play expecting to win.

"I don't know. I don't put a lot of stock into last year's game. This is a whole new team. We've got a lot of young faces, and we've just gone out and prepared the best we can from the time camp started."

Indeed, the teams that take the field for Sunday's Friends of Coal Bowl will wear the same colors and logos as last year's combatants, but will look very different otherwise.

West Virginia no longer has slot receiver Jock Sanders, who caught the 2-point conversion pass that sent last year's game to overtime. It does not have tight end Will Johnson, who caught the touchdown pass that led to that 2-point play.

Heck, it doesn't have true tight ends at all anymore. Ironically enough, the position Holliday mentored at WVU during his recent stint under then-coach Bill Stewart has been removed from the roster by Stewart's successor, Holgorsen.

On defense, the Mountaineers lost seven starters to graduation (and, in the case of safety Robert Sands, an early departure for the NFL).

But Marshall has experienced considerable turnover as well. It will start a true freshman at quarterback in Rakeem Cato, a product of Miami Central High in Florida. Fellow newcomer Travon Van could see the bulk of snaps at running back. Inexperienced players dot the roster at several other spots as well.

All that youth might worry some coaches. Not Holliday.

"I'd rather have a young, talented guy than an older guy that can't play," the second-year coach said. "We're like that at several positions, but I can live with that.

"This is a personnel-driven game, and there's no doubt in my mind we have improved as far as personnel goes. I think this year, defensively we have a lot more depth and we can play more players ... A lot of it is young depth. There's some talented guys we think can go in and play some snaps for us."

But Holliday is certainly glad to have one veteran presence back. Defensive end Vinny Curry is one of the best at his position in the country. The fifth-year senior had 94 tackles in 2010, including 18 tackles for loss (12 of them quarterback sacks).

"Vinny's an excellent player," Holliday said of the Neptune, N.J., native. "We're excited he came back for his senior year."

But the Herd's head man knows his defense is in for a challenge against Holgorsen's offense -- especially given the fact the MU coaching staff has no film of that system being run by West Virginia's personnel.

Thus, Marshall has studied film from Holgorsen's previous stints as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Houston. But Holliday admitted his players will be somewhat limited in how they can apply those studies to Sunday's game.

"You do go back to where [Holgorsen] had been a coordinator in the past," he said. "But like I've said, the one thing he's done a tremendous job of everywhere he's gone is he's adapted his offense to the personnel he's had, that he's inherited.

"And with the [tight end turned inside receiver] Tyler Urbans of the world and the [fullback turned "B" running back] Ryan Clarkes and all the people he has there at West Virginia at his disposal, I'm sure he'll do a great job adapting those kids to his offense. He's done a great job of that wherever he's been.

"He doesn't try to put round pegs in [square] holes."

Holliday acknowledged the unique difficulty of bringing his young team to Morgantown to face a foe with so many unknowns. But the Herd, he insisted, won't back down from the challenge.

"They're a great football team," Holliday said of the Mountaineers. "They're picked by the Big East Conference to win the league. Last year, they had nine players that are in NFL camps. This year, they're no different. They're the most talented team in that league, and it will be a great challenge for us to go up there and play.

"I have great respect for them and great respect for that university, but for that three-hour period on Sunday, it's all about doing what we can to win that football game. That is the only thing that is on my mind."

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