Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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College Sports

September 1, 2012

Matchups provide added spice to Marshall-WVU contest

BLUEFIELD — At 11:45 this morning those assembled inside Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field will hear the beat of the “Pride of West Virginia” drumline as they enter the stadium, signaling the start of another college football season.

Twenty minutes later foot will meet leather and the West Virginia Mountaineers and Marshall Thundering Herd will mark the opening of the 2012 season.

West Virginia enters the season with high expectations. There is a new conference, the Big 12, and WVU is picked to be a contender for the league championship. There is Heisman Trophy talk surrounding quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Tavon Austin.

Marshall enters the game on a high note. The Herd is coming off a 7-6 season in which they defeated Florida International in the Beef ‘O’Brady Bowl.

West Virginia has won eight straight season openers and all six meetings against Marshall since this series resumed in 2006. This is the final scheduled meeting and Marshall will need a win to bolster its argument that the Friends of Coal Bowl should resume in the future.

A key matchup will be Smith against Marshall’s secondary. Smith threw for 249 yards and two scores against Marshall last year. In 2010, he went 14 of 17 for 151 yards on the final two drives as WVU came from 15 points down to beat Marshall in overtime.

Marshall’s secondary returns only one starter but includes Boston College transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha at safety and Penn State transfer Derrick Thomas at cornerback.

Both teams have players to watch. For WVU look out for receivers Austin and Stedman Bailey.

Austin set a school record as a junior with 101 receptions last season. Coupled with his duties as kick and punt returner, he led the nation a year ago with 2,574 all-purpose yards. Bailey also set a school record as a sophomore with 1,279 receiving yards. His 12 TDs tied another mark.

On the Marshall side of the ball Aaron Dobson can provide fireworks. The senior has led the Thundering Herd in receiving each of the past two seasons. He scored 12 TDs a year ago. In 2010, he burned West Virginia on a 96-yard TD pass play.

Tron Martinez, Marshall’s leading rusher last year, is still recovering from knee surgery and will miss the game.

Two local players are scheduled to suit up for the Thundering Herd. Bluefield’s Joe Woodrum is expected to see action on special teams, while Richlands’ Devon Johnson is a freshman for Marshall.

West Virginia won last year’s meeting 34-13. Severe storms caused more than four hours of delays and the game was stopped for good early in the fourth quarter.

It’s a homecoming for Marshall coach Doc Holliday, former longtime assistant at WVU under coaches Don Nehlen and Bill Stewart. Holliday also played at West Virginia under Bobby Bowden and Frank Cignetti in the mid-1970s.

Smith talked about the game.

“We are all excited, it is the first game. We know that all of their guys are going to come in here with a lot of enthusiasm. They are going to be ready to play. We want to match their intensity,” Smith said.

“We are not going to take anything lightly, and we are going to take it one step at a time. We are going to come out ready to play.”

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato will be making his second start against West Virginia. Cato made his college debut against West Virginia last year and was one of the few bright spots in Marshall’s 34-13 loss, completing 15 of 21 passes for 115 yards without an interception.

WVU defensive back Darwin Cook said the Herd QB will be better prepared.

“He is bound to be better than last year, because it was his first start when we played against them last year. I expect to see a better quarterback this season. He is going to be smarter. He looks as though he is going to be really good this year,” Cook said.

A few single tickets remain for the game, with no two together.

For those not attending the game, it will be broadcast nationally on FX.

— Contact Bob Redd at

bredd@bdtonline.com

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