Stew's Views: Herd Enough

While some might think it could be tough to keep his players' attention during a week in which WVU steps outside of Big East Conference play just one week after its first league game, the Mountaineers' head coach said that this week's opponent has the full attention of his team.

"It's all about state pride," said Bill Stewart of this Saturday's contest with Marshall.

"The Mountaineers know the importance of this game."

In this case, the annual Friends of Coal Bowl offers an opportunity for West Virginia's highly-rated run defense to take on one of the nation's premier runners.

MU running back Darius Marshall is the nation's second-leading rusher in terms of average and figures to be a test even for Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack defense, which both this season and historically has fared well against the run.

"He runs and plays hard," said Stewart of the Herd's Marshall. "I watched his kickoff returns (from last year's game against WVU) and he ran up and down the field on us. It looked like he was running sprints at a track meet. This year he has done the same thing."

"When he doesn't have the ball, he blocks. He is a great football player. We will have our hands full with Darius Marshall."

The Thundering Herd enter the contest at 4-2. Head coach Mark Snyder's club is coming off a road victory in Conference USA play, a 31-10 victory at Tulane. Marshall also has a road victory at C-USA foe Memphis to its credit and fell to defending league champion East Carolina by only four points.

The squad shows signs of improvement in Snyder's fifth year on the job, which may have been a necessity if the MU alumnus wanted to keep his job after this season. A win against a WVU program that has long been held as a massive rival to those in Huntington would likely keep him off the hot seat for at least another season.

Stewart, who was an assistant coach at Marshall in 1980 under then-coach Sonny Randle, said he has great respect for Snyder, a former Ohio State assistant, and his staff.

"Mark Snyder is a tremendous coach," Stewart said. "He's a great guy and he is doing a heck of job. He also has a tremendous staff with (offensive coordinator) John Shannon, (defensive coordinator) Rick Minter and (tight ends coach) Phil Ratliff. They are all Marshall guys. Continuity on the staff has helped them."

THROWBACK PERFORMERS:

With the increase in the use of the spread offense, the conventional tight end has largely become a thing of the past in some offenses, Saturday's game will buck that trend when two teams match up that utilize not just one, but in some cases two tight ends.

That isn't to say that either Marshall or WVU run "old school" power schemes with their tight ends. The Mountaineers' Tyler Urban and Will Johnson are more athletic than some of those players from days gone by and function largely as "H" (for "hybrid") backs.

"We are blessed to have two good athletes as tight ends," Stewart said.

The Herd will counter with its own duo of tight ends. Cody Slate is one of the most prominent pass-catching tight ends in all of college football, while Lee Smith has also been impressive in his time on the field for Snyder.

"I think they are really good," Stewart said of MU's tight ends. "Cody is a big tall guy. He is an athlete who presents mismatches. When you get a guy like that on a corner, he doesn't necessarily have to out-jump him. He just has to put a body on him. They are very tough to defend."

FASHION CONSCIOUS:

Stewart drew attention to himself when he donned a blue Nike sweater vest that sported a gold "Flying WV" logo over top of a gold button-down shirt for the nationally-televised Colorado game on October 1.

While the second-year coach had opted to wear that button-down to go along with the planned "Gold Rush" in the stands that night, he decided to add the vest because he "didn't want us all to look like mustard seeds on the sidelines."

The sweater vest has become a trademark of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel during his tenure in Columbus. While Stewart said that he felt like Tressel looked better in the vest, he added that it would probably be a fixture until his team takes a loss.

"I don't want to break the moxie," Stewart said of wearing the sweater vest, which increased its record to 2-0 when the Mountaineers defeated Syracuse this past Saturday.

Indeed, superstition does play a slight hand in the routines of the West Virginia coaches -- and not just when it comes to choosing what to wear.

"Every Friday, when us coaches have (Bible) study with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) guys, (wide receivers coach) Lonnie Galloway makes us all sit in the exact same seats," Stewart said. "That is all about moxie."

"I guess I will wear the sweater vest for a while -- hopefully a long, long time."


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