Match-ups: WVU-Marshall

When West Virginia hosts Marshall on Sunday, some definitive match-ups that fans have been waiting for will be on display. Game Scorecard
Sun 9/4/11 3:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 0-0
AP: 24
Last Game
N.C. State L 23-7
Radio: MSN
Record: 0-0
Last Game
Tulane W 38-23
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 10-0
First Meeting: 1911
Last Meeting: 2010
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

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WVU pass protection vs. Marshall's Vinny Curry

In order to make Dana Holgorsen's offense go, the quarterback has to have time to throw the ball. Granted, a good bit of the offense is predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands as quickly as possible, but if the aerial attack is going to be more than wide receiver screens and quick slants, West Virginia's pass protectors will have to keep rushers, especially Curry, at bay. The pressure will fall not only on the edge of the line, where Donny Barclay and Pat Eger will likely see charges from the Herd senior, but also on running backs.

West Virginia's bigger backs are more suited to helping block in these situations, but WVU can't be forced into inserting Matt Lindamood or Ricky Kovatch every time extra pass protection is required. Such substitutions would become a tip-off to Marshall, so there will be times when one of the young, smallish backs are called upon to help. How well will they be able to protect Geno Smith? Pass protection certainly is emphasized for backs in high school – especially those whose first job is to run the football constantly, so it will be interesting to see how quickly players such as Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison have picked up blocking skills. If they haven't, Curry could make a living in the Mountaineer backfield.

WVU nose tackles Jorge Wright and Josh Taylor vs. MU running game

The number one goal of West Virginia's defense is stopping the run. It was masterful at that task in 2010, yielding just 86.5 yard per game on the ground and surrendering just three rushing scores all year.

Jorge Wright
The linchpin of that defensive effort, Chris Neild, is now playing for the NFL's Washington Redskins, and replacing him will be a chore of proportions almost as big as the man himself. Wright has a good deal of natural ability, but has been inconsistent, and his summer legal issue kept him away from workouts for a while. Taylor has elevated himself from walk-on to solid contributor, but may need to play an even bigger role this year as Wright tries to settle in.

Whether the duo can tag team their way to a level of success anywhere near that of Neild remains a question to be answered, but it may be the most important one on a defense dotted with new starters and potential contributors. Junior college transfer Shaq Rowell, while possessing the size of Neild, still isn't ready for a contributing role, if Holgorsen's pre-game comments and the depth chart released by WVU is to be believed. He could move into the rotation later in the year, but for now it looks as if Wright and Taylor will have to carry the load.

Can that pair stop a Marshall running game that figures to get an early workout, given the fact that the Herd will be starting a freshman quarterback? There's no doubt the Herd will give running backs Travon Van and Tron Martinez the chance to control the pace of the game, and if West Virginia can't control the Herd ground attack, the offense might be stuck on the sideline and facing a lower than expected number of possessions. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday would love nothing more than to keep West Virginia's offense off the field, so this match-up looms large, especially in the early stages of the game.


WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was clearly displeased with West Virginia's effort and intensity in the 2010 game against Marshall, noting that "it was easy" to see which squad was playing harder and with more purpose. While Holgorsen said that the opponent shouldn't play into a team' preparations in terms of energy and focus, it's not as if he hasn't participated in games where emotion plays a big part. "Bedlam" the one-word description for the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, oozes intensity, but that might not be the best of comparisons for this contest. Instead, it might be more akin to Tulsa-Oklahoma State. Can Holgorsen get his troops to prepare the same no matter who the foe is? Does he understand the importance that Marshall places on this game? (One look at last year's result, which clearly echoed throughout the first half of the season, should be proof enough. And most importantly, can he make his team understand it?

Throughout his time at West Virginia, Holgorsen has maintained that he isn't concerned as much with what his foe is doing as with what his team is doing. That isn't a lack of respect, although some writers have tried to make it appear so. Instead, it's simply an outgrowth of a common coaching tenet that holds execution as one of the most important items to master. If a team executes its assignments, and does so more consistently and better than its opponent, it's likely going to win the game, no matter what the other guy does. And while there is some specific planning that goes into preparation for different opponents, that's not the thing that Holgorsen focuses on. Whether he's been successful in instilling that in his team is the question that all WVU fans are waiting to see answered.

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West Virginia's revamped kick and punt return schemes will also bear close watching. The Mountaineers haven't generated much in the return game recently, ranking 56th in punt returns and a woeful 108th in kickoff returns a year ago.

In order to jump-start those numbers, WVU's assistants conducted a number of drills during fall camp designed to find players who could execute in the return game, and that search was by no means limited to return men. Several drills were run to identify players that excel in the wide-open spaces of the return game – specifically, players than can peel back to an assigned position, identify a foe and get to him to make blocks.

Of course, candidates to catch and return the ball were also screened, with players such as Tavon Austin, Brodrick Jenkins, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Devon Brown catching boots during practice. According to the most recent official depth chart, Bailey and Brown will handle kickoffs while Jenkins and Austin will return punts, but that's probably not set in stone.

Watch West Virginia as it deploys its return teams. Will it be linebackers and fullbacks to clear the way? How will the Mountaineers align and deploy their returners? None of this has been on public view this year, so it's an area worthy of attention in the opener.

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The impact of Dana Holgorsen on West Virginia's offense has been discussed to death, but it could all be boiled down to this: What's a reasonable expectation for WVU's points per game output in 2010? Keep in mind that it's not just the Holgorsen system that is going to have an impact here. WVU's talent level certainly figures into it, as does the quality of defenses the Mountaineers will face.

Taking those factors into account, what's your target number for points per game? If WVU could add just a touchdown per outing to last year's 25.2 per game average, would that be enough for nine or ten wins? A Big East title? Would ten more points per game satisfy most observers?

While this is more of a long range question, it's one that probably should be kept in mind each week. How many points gives WVU a very good chance of winning?

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