Sat 10/17/09 3:30 PM
Syracuse W 34-13
TV: Big East Network
Tulane W 31-10
Series: WVU 8-0
First Meeting: 1911
Last Meeting: 2008
WVU – Scooter Berry (Shoulder) Probable.
WVU Offense vs. Marshall defense
West Virginia has gotten both the quick starts it desires and the solid finishes it needs. But the Mountaineers have yet to piece together a full game in which the offense operates efficiently and sans sizeable mistakes, including fumbles and dropped balls. The stat of the week is that the Mountaineers have scored 30 or more points in the first five games for the first time in school history. Indeed, the offense has been stopped mostly by itself. Auburn slowed it for a few possessions in the middle of the game, and Syracuse showed flashes in the second half, when WVU scored a lone touchdown. Partially as a need to control clock by maintaining possession, the play calls were rightfully a bit safer in latter portions of most games. But there are correctable issues that will elevate the overall offensive play, and Marshall is a last chance to work on reaching a higher quality of play before conference games mark the remainder of the slate.
The Herd is much improved from head coach Mark Snyder's first four seasons. MU's defense is allowing an average of 22.8 points per game. Just two of six foes have score more than 21 points, however, and the average was severely upped by Virginia Tech's 52-point outburst in Blacksburg. Since then only East Carolina has gotten out of the teens, with the Pirates scoring one more point in Huntington than they did in Morgantown – albeit without the special teams breaks ECU had versus WVU. Too, Tech tacked up 444 yards rushing, a reason MU's average is at 170 yards per game. But West Virginia is beginning to mesh along the offensive front, and should be able to find some room against the Herd's 4-3 defense. It will need to limit First-team All-C-USA defensive end Albert McClellan, who has 33 tackles, five for loss, and three sacks. The league's 2006 Defensive Player of the Year, at 6-2, 254 pounds, shows great agility and upfield push, and can get into the backfield to disrupt run and pass plays. West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown can certainly out run McClellan to a corner, but the end doesn't often push too far upfield and allow a cutback lane. WVU could struggle to run the ball to his side without double-teaming the senior. Tackles Michael Janac and James Burkee don't rank highly in tackles, both because of the defensive scheme and MU's average pass defense. Janac has the better numbers with 24 tackles and a sack. He has five quarterback hurries. End Vinny Curry, a junior, is in his first season starting. He has showed flashes of being a decent pass rusher, but will be pressed more, as he has all year, with his talented counterpart on the other side.
The three starting linebackers all rank in the top five in team tackles. Weakside ‘backer Mario Harvey leads the team with 46 stops. The preseason first-team all-conference pick was rated as a top 30 player coming out of Hargrave Military Academy. Middle linebacker Kellen Harris, a sophomore, has 41 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles. West Virginia will need to secure carries up the middle, as the 6-3, 236-pounder will be around the ball often. This might be Snyder's best collection of talent along the front seven in his tenure at Marshall. What he and defensive coordinator Rick Minter needs are few more plays made in the secondary. MU is allowing 221.3 yards per game in the air, and foes have scored six TDs. But the Herd also has seven interceptions, with senior safety Ashton Hall being arguably the most raw athletic talent the Mountaineers will face through six games. Hall, a senior strong safety, broke former Marshall and current New England Patriot receiver Randy Moss's school-record vertical jump with a 44-inch measurement. Hall has 42 tackles – too many for a strong safety, especially when teams have thrown at will at times – and a pick. The corners are both sophomores, backed by a junior and a sophomore, and have been beaten more often than Minter would like. The head coach at Cincinnati when the4 Bearcats upset WVU 15-13 in 2003, Minter came to Marshall after current Mountaineer assistant Steve Dunlap left the Herd to rejoin a newly renovated Mountaineer staff.
Other than the Auburn contest, West Virginia has executed reasonably well in the passing game. The Mountaineers are amassing 257 yards a clip with eight total aerial touchdowns. WVU has as much talent as anybody Marshall has faced, and with its combination of backs, quarterback play and skill at wideout, this could be the most difficult offense which Marshall has thus far played. Virginia Tech is just as prolific, but the Hokies don't use as much ingenuity. Teams often know what's coming, but it's difficult to stop because of Tech's talent – which at times gets a short field because of special teams and defense. Here, MU must defend the entire field at all times or risk being burned for big plays. With some youth in the secondary, Marshall must contain the run and hope for a few Mountaineer drops and mistakes. While the intrastate rival as improved on this side of the ball since Snyder focused more upon it after the Tech game, it still doesn't have the personnel to match-up well.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 33.4 ppg||Scoring Defense 22.8 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 192.2 ypg||Rushing Defense 170.3 ypg|
|Passing Offense 257 ypg||Passing Defense 221.3 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Defense vs. Marshall Offense
At 22 points per game, Marshall isn't overpowering many foes. Its scoring is solid, but versus West Virginia's focus against the run, MU will need to throw somewhat effectively – an aspect which has yet to develop midway through the season. The Herd is averaging 166.7 yards passing per game, ranking it in the bottom 10 in the NCAA FBS Division. Its running attack, conversely, is led by Darius Marshall's 147.4 average net yards per game. That ranks the junior second at the major college level; WVU's Noel Devine is third. Marshall, 5-10, 190 pounds, tallied 262 all-purpose yards against West Virginia last year while amassing more than 1,000 yards rushing. He isn't a pure burner, but has a nice combination of shiftiness, ability to exploit holes and strength to gain yards after contact. He'll be the primary concern for the Mountaineers.
Second-year Marshall offensive coordinator John Shannon – who led Toledo's offensive to multiple top 20 rankings – is quickly developing a solid offensive line to aid its ground game and transform it from a school with a passing identity into one that relies on the run. The right side is anchored by two seniors while the left, with a bit more inexperience and lack of size, has played solidly through the majority of games. Center Chad Schofield moved from guard to center this year and, although not the most athletic or talented linemen, has manned the spot effectively thus far. He hasn't played heads-up against many opposing linemen, however, and this could be an area into which West Virginia gets a push to discontinue development of running lanes.
Quarterback Brian Anderson's efficiency rating is just 115.97, among the lowest in C-USA. At 97-of-159, he isn't completing a high number of passes, and has yet to find a downfield threat. He also doesn't move in the pocket or scramble nearly as well as many quarterbacks in Marshall's history. This is a workmanlike player still trying to better his game to even a legitimately upper level in a non-BCS league. Anderson certainly isn't a poor player, but he isn't capable of winning games even partially himself. He is a role player, a cog in the offense, and that's fine. His major target is tight end Cody Slate, a 6-4, 229 pound senior who could cause major issues down the seam and across the defense behind the linebackers. He is difficult to tackle and is the NCAA's career active leader in tight end receiving yards. He has 28 catches for 322 yards this year. Wideouts Antavious Wilson and Chuck Walker lead the corps with 19 and 18 catches, respectively, for 238 and 165 yards. This should be one of the lesser challenges in coverage for WVU's corners this season. This match-up comes down the strength on strength: West Virginia's run defense against Marshall's running game. Even if the latter wins, as long as it doesn't do so in standout fashion, the Mountaineers should be fine.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 23.6 ppg||Scoring Offense 22.2 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 84.6 ypg||Rushing Offense 163.7 ypg|
|Passing Defense 225.4 ypg||Passing Offense 166.7 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. Marshall Special Teams
Marshall has a solid return game and that, coupled with West Virginia's penchant for still allowing a few big bring-backs per contest, could be trouble. If forced to drive the length of the field, odds are that, because of its lack of big play ability, the Herd would disrupt its drives before being able to mount the four-plus it would take to stay with WVU's offense (barring fumblitis). The Mountaineers must stay in lanes and tackle Andre Booker and Darius Marshall on punt and kickoff returns, respectively. No returner for either team has a score yet, but that stat might fall in this game.
Marshall placekicker Craig Ratanamorn is, like WVU's Tyler Bitancurt, perfect on field goals this season. Ratanamorn is seven-of-seven, but hasn't made anything longer than 36 yards. Bitancurt has missed a point after while making five field goals, the longest 45 yards. West Virginia has a bit of an edge in punting with Scott Kozlowski's 46.7-yard average with a whopping seven punts of 17 going for 50-plus yards. Marshall's Kasey Whitehead averages 38.5 yards. The Mountaineers must be sure-handed here, though, as Whitehead likes to hang the ball up to allow coverage to get downfield.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 40 yards||Net Punting 32.3 yards per punt|
|KO Returns 20.5 yards per return||KO Returns 22.6 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 13.3 yards per return||Punt Returns 12.4 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Don Barclay.
It's difficult to imagine West Virginia's rush defense allowing the yardage Marshall – the back and the school – is averaging through six games. The Herd should find some room, but it isn't likely to amass the yards and touchdowns needed to keep pace with the Mountaineer offense. If WVU plays solidly on special teams and slows Darius Marshall, it should get a fifth win handily. If Marshall gets churning and can mix the pass when it wants to, as opposed to when forced to, the contest could be tight for a second time in three years.
WVU – 38 Marshall - 16