Marshall-West Virginia Preview
Marshall would like to have something worth bragging about in its series against No. 11 West Virginia.
Marshall is 0-11 all-time against the Mountaineers, losing six straight since play between the state's only Bowl Subdivision teams resumed in 2006.
With the series coming to an end for the foreseeable future, there's still one chance left for Marshall on Saturday, and that has West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen worried.
''Highly motivated teams are dangerous,'' Holgorsen said. ''We know Marshall is going to be a highly motivated team.''
The schools aren't scheduled to play each other after this year and the Friends of Coal Bowl could be shelved for quite some time.
The Mountaineers are making their debut in the 10-team Big 12, leaving them with two fewer nonconference games to schedule. WVU athletic director Oliver Luck has indicated the need to keep other regional rivalries going, such as those with Maryland and Pittsburgh.
''I think it's a great series and I think it should continue,'' said third-year Marshall coach Doc Holliday, a former longtime assistant coach at West Virginia. ''But I'm not concerned about that. I just know we've got a game to play. Whether it's the last one or not, I could care less. We've just got to prepare for it.''
Marshall has put up only one close fight. West Virginia needed to come from 15 points down in the fourth quarter in 2010 to beat Marshall in overtime in Huntington. Other than that, it's been one sided.
Quarterback Rakeem 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.
He'll likely need to rev up his game to have a chance to match the efforts of quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers. West Virginia has most of the offense back from the team that beat Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.
A young Marshall team went on the road and beat Louisville and beat Florida International 20-10 in the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl. Marshall finished 7-6 and will pursue its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03.
Beating the Mountaineers on their home field could go a long way toward that.
''We have to be better offensively and I think we will be,'' Holliday said. ''We still have a lot of young kids, but those kids have been to that venue and played. Those guys have some experience and confidence that will carry over to this year.''
While Marshall would love another competitive game against West Virginia, Holgorsen wouldn't mind seeing his team come close to the efficiency it showed in the Orange Bowl.
But Holgorsen has a reminder for his high-powered offense - it mustered only a touchdown and three field goals against South Florida in the regular-season finale.
''So we are far from having things figured out,'' Holgorsen said.
Last year's game was stopped for good early in the fourth quarter after severe storms caused more than four hours of delays. The storms were only a temporary slowdown for a West Virginia team that set a single-season school record with 6,104 yards of total offense.
Marshall's secondary has been fortified this year, adding Boston College transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha at safety and Penn State transfer Derrick Thomas at cornerback. All have seen bigger crowds than Saturday's expected sellout of 60,000.
''We know that all of their guys are going to come in here with a lot of enthusiasm,'' Smith said. ''They are going to be ready to play. We want to match their intensity. We are not going to take anything lightly.''