MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES
The battle between the two best linemen on the field should be a very entertaining battle to watch. Tear your eyes away from the quarterback and the ball for at least the start of a few plays, and watch as Dykes and Legursky battle for control of the line of scrimmage.
For Dykes, the key is to stand his ground and not allow Legursky to get leverage and move him around. While Dykes is WVU's best defensive tackle, he's also WVU's best nose at this point, and it is such a critical, if unnoticed, position in the 3-3 that the Mountaineers felt the need to move the senior standout back inside until younger talent, in the form of Thor Merrow and Chris Neild, show enough consistency to man the spot. Dykes' goal will be to stalemate Legursky and one of the Herd guard to allow linebackers spurs and bandits to get to the ball on running plays. Any penetration of the pocket on the pass rush would be a bonus.
Legursky, an outstanding player in his own right, will have to move Dykes in order to make room for the Herd inside running game. He will often work in tandem with one of the MU guards to slow Dykes, then make a read and peel off against a linebacker. Dykes' ability to eat up double teams will be put to the test this week. Look for MU to try to run outside early on to tire Dykes in pursuit, then come back with a few inside runs to see how he is holding up.
When Schmitt lines up at tight end, he will often be faced by Hoskins, the strong side linebacker for the Herd. Look for West Virginia to set up a pass or two for Schmitt by first running the ball to the strong side, with Schmitt leading the way. At some point, the Mountaineers are likely to try to slip Schmitt by a cheating LB, or sneak him into the flat past linebackers concentrating on Steve Slaton. Hoskins will have to stick with his assignment and be sure to account for Schmitt off the line before he begins hunting Slaton, otherwise the rugged Mountaineer will have a chance to record a big catch or two in the passing game.
Schmitt can't be ignored as a pass catching threat out of the backfield, either. With teams being forced to provide safety help to linebackers trying to track Slaton in pass coverage, Schmitt may be in the position to get matched up with a linebacker whose pass coverage is not his forte. If that happens, and Schmitt catches the ball in the open field, long gains are likely to result, especially if there are only cornerbacks left in his path.
It often happens that teams forget about Schmitt after he has a game or two where he doesn't pile up big numbers, and then the rambunctious runner breaks out for a big day. If Marshall doesn't account for Schmitt in its defensive gameplan, Saturday could be one those occasions.
Follow Schmitt as he lines up, and see how the Herd defends him. Is it mostly zone? Or do they try to cover him with a linebacker or a strong safety?
THINGS TO WATCH
While West Virginia hasn't had a quarterback controversy for a long stretch (except in the minds of a few who weren't looking at the facts objectively), Marshall isn't enjoying stability at the QB spot. Although head coach Mark Snyder, like any coach, downplays the "controversy" aspect of the situation, it can't be denied that starter Bernard Morris is on thin ice. After being pulled against Miami, Morris could be subjected to the same fate if he has a similar performance against the Mountaineers, although the options behind him aren't numerous.
It is always interesting to note that moves at the QB spot get far more attention than those at other positions. For example, no one is writing about the "guard controversy" at West Virginia, where Eric Rodemoyer will start this week in place of Derek Hayes, who was with the first unit in the opener against Western Michigan. However, with QB being so visible, it's natural for attention to be focused there. And yours should be too, especially if Morris struggles. Will Snyder lift him early if the Herd falls behind? How will the rest of the offense react if another change is made?
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Morris was Marshall's leading rusher in the Herd's 34-3 pasting at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes, so Snyder might not want to be quick to pull his starter. It is imperative for Marshall to establish some sort of running game against WVU. Despite all the wailing about the Mountaineers' pass defense, there simply aren't may teams that can throw the ball consistently enough, and productively enough, to offset West Virginia's offensive explosiveness.
Morris could help in that regard, as he is a nifty runner who can be tough to track and bring down. With WVU's spotty pass rush, Morris could give the Herd a spark with his scrambling ability, or even on some designed runs designed to use the Mountaineers quickness against them. Will MU hand over the reins and see if Morris can make some plays with his feet as well as with his arm? Or will they remain somewhat conservative in their attempt to control the ball and keep West Virginia's offense off the field?
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West Virginia will be walking into a snake pit in Huntington, as the Herdtowners have been waiting almost a century for the Mountaineers to pay another visit. (As a side note, wouldn't it be cool if someone could be located who was at that 1915 contest? If that person, were, say, eight at the time, he or she would be an even 100 today. It's not out of the realm of possibility, is it?)
However, that's not the deal we are discussing here. West Virginia's team must be prepared to play coolly, but not without fire and emotion, in what will be an exciting atmosphere for the green-clad fans. Sure, WVU has played on the road in venomous atmospheres, but getting the Mountaineers in Huntington amounts to something of a religious miracle for many Herd faithful, and no doubt their emotions will be running high. WVU must tune that out, but sometimes when that happens a team can play without the hard edge that head coach Rich Rodriguez hones in his players. It's all a question of balance – playing hard, but not without poise.
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Will Marshall copy Western Michigan's tactic of flooding the line with defenders? Or will the fear of big plays keep the Herd defense further off the ball, but better positioned to cut down on the long plays that doomed the Broncos? The Herd has better speed overall defensively than WMU, but can it limit WVU's big plays and keep itself in the contest? Watch Marshall's safeties on West Virginia's first couple of possessions – they will be a key indicator as to what Marshall wants to take away, and what it will risk – against the Mountaineers.