Twice As Nice?

Can Marshall follow up its big win over Southern Miss with an even bigger win at West Virginia?

Not too long ago, West Virginia fans were looking at the annual in-state rivalry game with Marshall with the same expectation they always do: win, and win big.

However, West Virginia's 1-2 start combined with the Thundering Herd's 3-1 beginning has WVU's fan base quite silent on the trash talking front, and simply hoping for a win in any way, shape or form come Saturday afternoon when Marshall visits Milan Puskar Stadium.

The paths that each team has taken to this year's showdown could not be more different. West Virginia, ranked in the top ten of both preseason polls, is now nowhere to be seen in the rankings after two consecutive road losses have left the Mountaineers under .500 for the first time since 2003. Marshall, on the contrary, is 3-1, and comes to Morgantown on the heels of Mark Snyder's biggest win since taking over the program at his alma mater in 2005.

The Thundering Herd defeated perennial Conference USA power Southern Miss on Saturday by a final of 34-27, on the road to boot.

"Both teams fought to the end. It came down to the last play of the game again," Snyder recalled. "It was just a good football game. I thought we played a little bit better after looking at the film than I thought we played the other day. We made one more play than they did."

With all due respect to Southern Miss, however, the Thundering Herd is hoping that the win in Hattiesburg will not be their trademark victory for more than a week.

Snyder, now in his fourth season, finally looks to have MU moving in the right direction. After an 0-7 start last season, Marshall finished the year with three wins in its final five games, including a 26-7 pasting of East Carolina. Add in this year's terrific start, and the Herd come thundering into Morgantown with more confidence and hope than they've had in either of the first two meetings between the two schools since the rivalry renewed in 2006 at the behest of Gov. Joe Manchin.

Of course having confidence is only a small part of what Marshall must do to topple the Mountaineers for the first time in school history. In order to do that, MU must find a way to continue the work of East Carolina and Colorado, who have held the Mountaineers to a combined 17 points in the past two games.

Despite West Virginia's low point production, Snyder – a former defensive coordinator himself at Ohio State – is quite aware that the Mountaineer offense is still very capable of erupting, thanks in no small part to the play of senior quarterback Patrick White.

"That is a very explosive offense with some great football players," Snyder said. "Of course it all starts with Pat White. I've said it before, I think he is probably the best college football player in America and I'll stick to my guns on that. I've seen him for two years."

So, what exactly does slowing down White and West Virginia's offense entail? Making sure they aren't on the field is a good start. Expect the Thundering Herd to give West Virginia a steady dose of running backs Chubb Small and Darius Marshall. Doing so would not only control the clock and the ball, but ease the pressure on freshman quarterback Mark Cann.

West Virginia's defense, which showed marked improvement in the loss at Colorado, might have a thing or two to say about that.

"I think the matchup is in their favor a little bit with what they're doing defensively," Snyder admitted. "They've got a great defensive end, they have really good linebackers and they're solid in the secondary. They just look like they have a lot of team speed, and they will hit you. I've been very impressed with them."

The second part of limiting West Virginia's explosiveness comes when the Herd defense is on the field. Under the guidance of former Cincinnati head coach and first-year defensive coordinator Rick Minter, the Marshall defense will prepare for White and company this week with a focus on limiting big plays.

"We just have to make them drive the field and not give up any explosive plays," Snyder explained. "I had a chance to see them live on Thursday night and then had a chance to see it again on film. Pat can take it the distance at any minute. We've got to try to limit those and make them drive the field."

Limiting big plays and making a few of their own would certainly go a long way in propelling the Herd to their first ever victory over West Virginia. The formula for a win, however, is not that simple.

"This is a very good football team that we are going to play," said Snyder. "I think that we're going to see their best shot."


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