The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: State rivals will square off in Huntington on Friday night, as the Marshall Thundering Herd welcome the 23rd-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers to town.
On opening weekend, West Virginia cruised past Coastal Carolina as expected by a 31-0 final. Members of the Big East Conference, the Mountaineers are led by Bill Stewart, now in his third season at the helm. There are 16 starters back between the offense and defense, so expectations are fairly high in Morgantown.
As for Marshall, which is a member of Conference USA, it had the unenviable task of taking on second-ranked Ohio State in Columbus to open the season last week. Put simply, the Thundering Herd were outclassed, as they fell to the Buckeyes in a 45-7 final. That lopsided defeat spoiled the debut of Doc Holliday, the new coach at Marshall.
"I told our team that I was proud of the effort that they gave," said Holliday. "I was not proud of the fact that we did not follow the plan to win."
West Virginia has won all nine previous meetings with Marshall, including double-digit victories over the Herd in each of the last four seasons.
While many starters do return for West Virginia, Geno Smith is a fresh face under center. In the opener against Coastal Carolina, Smith completed 20-of-27 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
"I want Geno to know I have all the confidence in the world in him and the other 10 players out there with him," said coach Stewart. "I wanted that young man to know he's our guy, we're going with him and I wanted to showcase him right from the get go."
Noel Devine ran for 111 yards and a score for WVU, and the speedy back now has nearly 3,500 rushing yards in his brilliant collegiate career.
"People expect him to go out and run for 300 yards against these guys," said Stewart of Devine. "They spent the whole day trying to take Noel out of the game plan. That's why we threw the ball."
Jock Sanders paced the WVU receivers with eight grabs for 71 yards and a score, and the Mountaineers finished the contest with 400 total yards. They were 9-of-17 on third-down conversion attempts and held the ball for over 32 minutes.
Defensively, West Virginia stifled Coast Carolina, limiting the overmatched Chanticleers to 186 total yards on 60 offensive plays. Of the 14 third-down conversion attempts that Coastal faced in the tilt, only two of those were successful. WVU was particularly strong against the run, permitting a mere 63 yards on 33 attempts. The Mountaineers didn't record any sacks, but they did post a pair of takeaways. Terence Garvin paced WVU with seven total tackles.
"I really liked the way our defense played," said Stewart. "I am really pleased with the way our defense adjusted and reacted during the football game."
Looking forward to this weekend's game, Marshall's new head coach showed great respect for West Virginia.
"We come from playing the best team in the Big Ten Conference to now playing the best team in the Big East Conference," said Holliday. "They are the most talented Big East team out there."
Holliday's offense posted just 199 total yards and recorded 11 first downs against Ohio State, which possesses one of the best defenses in all of college football. The Thundering Herd were 4-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts and turned the ball over three times.
A major problem for Marshall was that its receivers dropped far too many passes. Both Brian Anderson and Eddie Sullivan saw time under center, and both were victimized by the drops. Anderson completed 17-of-28 passes for 135 yards and figures to be under center for much of this weekend's tilt.
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, Marshall was simply not match for the high-powered and well-balanced Ohio State offense. The Thundering Herd were gashed for 529 total yards and 23 first downs, and OSU was able to hold the ball for nearly 35 minutes of the contest. With zero takeaways, Marshall failed to make the type of impact plays necessary to keep a game close against an elite opponent. Mario Harvey recorded 10 total tackles in the tilt, while Vinny Curry had a pair of sacks.
The edge goes to West Virginia on the road in this one. Expect the Mountaineers to pull away in the second half for a rather easy victory.