Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

August 28, 2012

Herd, WVU: Mutual admiration

Holliday, Holgorsen talk of opponent's big talents

BLUEFIELD — At noon Saturday the final Friends of Coal Bowl will kick off at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, pitting the Marshall Thundering Herd against the No. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers.

Both WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and MU head coach Doc Holliday talked to the media via their respective leagues’ weekly conference calls on Monday, and both spoke about a game which some call a rivalry and some call another game, depending on whether one wears green and white, or gold and blue.

Asked if the opening game had added meaning since it is against West Virginia, Holliday said, “Every game is important for us. It just happens to be the first one. We’ve got great respect for West Virginia. They’ve got a great football team. They are probably the most talented team in their league.”

Holgorsen said, “Based on last year, me being involved in it for the first year, it’s a game that means a lot to the people of West Virginia. It means a lot to both teams for bragging rights in the state.”

Whether or not one chooses to call the game a rivalry, both Holgorsen and Holliday heaped praise on the other team.

Holliday, a WVU alumnus who played and coached in Morgantown under two head coaches, Don Nehlen and Bill Stewart, gushed over the offensive weapons that will face his Thundering Herd on Saturday.

“They are one of the top 10 teams in America,” Holliday said. “They’ve got Geno Smith at quarterback and he should win the Heisman Trophy. He is also picked to be player of the year in the Big 12 and probably if he wasn’t picked, Tavon Austin would have been.”

“With him, (Stedman) Bailey and Geno, and they’ve got most of their offensive line back, they are a talented bunch and we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Holgorsen and the West Virginia staff have been studying Marshall film from last year’s games and the second-year coach believes Marshall performed its best against the Mountaineers in 2011.

“They played considerably harder against West Virginia than they did any other team out there,” Holgorsen observed. “We’re obviously expecting to get their best.

“They’ve got quite a bit of people coming back, had a lot of young kids last year, so the biggest thing is for our guys to understand that we’re going to get their absolute best and that we’re going to have to play good in order to win.”

Holgorsen was particularly impressed with Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

“He was the MVP of their bowl game last year and he’s a big, good-looking kid, a returning starter,” Holgorsen said.

“He does a good job in being the physical guy that can block and make some catches that are pretty spectacular. He’s obviously a guy that’s caught our eye and he’s going to be one of the bigger focus points of what we need to do in order to win the game.”

A question mark that surrounds West Virginia heading into this season is the defense. Holliday and the Marshall staff are also curious, not knowing what to expect when they take to the field, Saturday.

“I think right now there are a lot of unknowns with that (WVU) defense,” Holliday said. “They’ve got two new coordinators in there. They’ve got good players on defense too, not just on offense.

“They’re well coached and there’s a lot of unknown in that first game, so we’ve just got to go in there being prepared and doing the best we can. We know there’s going to have to be some adjustments made early because with two new coordinators you don’t know exactly what you are going to get.”

While six starters return for WVU on defense, there is a new scheme, a 4-4, and new faces that are on the two-deep for the Mountaineers.

“We’re going to play four, or five freshmen, d-line, linebacker-type guys,” Holgorsen said. “It takes game-type experiences to see which ones of those guys are going to step up and become leaders and guys we rely on when things aren’t going good, or whatever it is.

“I have a lot of bodies, a lot of new bodies, and we’re really looking forward to seeing those guys get out there and play and which ones step up when things get tough.”

West Virginia lost three starters from last season to the NFL. Defensive lineman Bruce Irvin was a first round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, while defensive back Keith Tandy and Najee Good are both with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This marks the final game in the seven-game series announced in 2004 and started in 2006. West Virginia has won all six of the previous meetings and leads the all-time series against Marshall 11-0.

With West Virginia’s move to the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineers have only three non-conference games per season.

WVU officials have indicated they would like to play a regional non-conference schedule that gets the Mountaineers into areas where there are potential recruits and large alumni bases. They look to return Pitt to the schedule and keep Maryland.

Marshall, when negotiations were underway, voiced a desire to play on a home-and-home basis, something West Virginia does not wish to do.

The only in-state BCS vs. non-BCS schools that play on an annual basis are Colorado (Pac 12) and Colorado State (Mountain West). Their annual game is played at a neutral site in Denver.

Kickoff for WVU-Marshall is set for high noon on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally on FX.

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