The Mountaineers, who will stay in Charleston Friday night, will play their first ever road pre-noon EST game under head coach Rich Rodriguez, in his seventh year. It will also be the first regular season pre-noon EST game kick in recent memory. That will force WVU, which has played numerous noon games but of late had more kickoffs post-1 p.m., to back its schedule up one hour. That isn't a huge deal to the staff or players, but the feeling of the crowd and the general pre-noon non-buzz could be a hindrance.
"I don't know if I have had one before," Rodriguez said of the 11:10 kick. "I kinda like the noon ones, but can't remember playing one so early. It's not much different. Our players are used to early morning workouts and some practices. The thing that changes is going to bed earlier."
West Virginia will hold a walk-through at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Friday, then bus back to Charleston for the night. The 38,019-seat facility, never before sold out, is expected to be rocking. It has been rumored that WVU and Marshall will have nearly an even fan base representation, but Rodriguez doesn't believe that.
"That venue will make a difference," he said. "Any time you are on the road in a hostile environment it's tough. We're excited to go down to Marshall. It has been a very long time since we have played down there, and there is a lot of excitement in the state. It's going to be a very tense atmosphere, and it will be tougher this year down at their place. (A split crowd) would help stem the tide of the Herd fans. I do know every ticket that we could buy is gone and I have heard a lot of West Virginia fans bought season tickets to Marshall to be able to come. We will still be outnumbered there, but I am sure all that can be there will be."
West Virginia defeated Marshall 42-10 in the season-opener for both squads last year. It last played in Huntington in 1915, a 92-6 throttling of the Herd. WVU leads the all-time series 6-0, with three games being decided by 30-plus points and two by 80-plus. The Mountaineers, who have won 23 of their last 26 games, beat Western Michigan 62-24 at home to start the 2007 season. Marshall (0-1) lost 31-3 at Miami, but has shown improvement under third-year head coach Mark Snyder.
"You can tell he has his stamp on the program," Rodriguez said. "They play with passion and talent, and it's a little easier every year in terms of your technique and philosophy. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their program, coaches, players and staff."
Rodriguez will again be facing former West Virginia defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap, in his first year in the same position at MU. Dunlap, who coached WVU's No. 1 ranked Mountaineer unit in total defense in 1996, is the school's all-time single-season leader in tackles. He was not retained when Rodriguez took over at West Virginia following the retirement of former head coach Don Nehlen. Dunlap has since coached at Syracuse and N.C. State, being released from both when the head coaches (Paul Pasqualoni and Chuck Amato, respectively) were fired.
"Steve is an excellent coach, and he has got a lot of experience in big arenas," Rodriguez said. "He has seen it all, and he has got them flying around and making plays. We know Steve Dunlap, and he is an outstanding coach."
Rodriguez again noted how well Western Michigan forced his team to execute. The Broncos stacked the box and played close to the line of scrimmage, putting pressure on their corners with one-on-one coverage. WVU attacked it with its passing game, and, somewhat surprisingly, threw on the opening five plays of the second half. The success through the air – quarterback Patrick White threw touchdown passes on the first two series – helped to bolster the running game.
"Every team has its own personality and scheme, and in the first game we knew Western Michigan had some really good skill players," Rodriguez said. "They forced us to execute, played man and put people in the box. I was pleased with the effort and intensity, but we did have typical first-game miscues. I thought we took care of the ball pretty well, though Darius Reynaud had the one fumble that he could have tucked tighter."
West Virginia won the turnover battle 3-2, the latter Mountaineer miscue coming on a late punt after the game was decided.
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Rodriguez was happy that he was able to play a lot of younger players at the end of the game. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown entered on the first WVU possession of the fourth quarter and led a scoring drive. Backup tailbacks Noel Devine and Jock Sanders saw a dozen-plus snaps, with Devine adding the final touchdown, and wideout Brandon Hogan and linebacker Pat Lazear played within their respective units as well as on special teams. Freshman spur safety Sidney Glover also played, along with other freshmen and senior free safety Ryan Mundy, in his first season in the program after transferring from Michigan.
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Much of that was setup by the early performance of White and superback Steve Slaton. The duo pushed West Virginia to a 41-28 lead after three quarters. The performances might be considered extraordinary, except that they do it every game. Rodriguez cautioned, however, that the Heisman Trophy ramifications would never affect any part of his game preparation or operation.
"It never has and never will," he said. "Our philosophy on the game is to play our best players as long as we have to to be sure to win. Then, once the game is secure, then you play the subs. I don't think we have anybody who is concerned with numbers and stats. It's ‘What can we do to win?'."
"Ray and Brian, they are great, explosive players. They will have big games in every game," Rodriguez said. "The Big East got off to another good start. I think we continue to prove that we're not a big league as far as numbers, but we are a very quality league."