Week 1 Matchup - Marshall vs. West Virginia

Posted May 28, 2011

Looking ahead at the Week One Matchups - Marshall vs. West Virginia

Preview 2011

Week 1 - Marshall at WVU

- 2011 Marshall Preview | 2011 Marshall Offense
- 2011 Marshall Defense | 2011 Marshall Depth Chart
- Marshall Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

- 2011 West Virginia Preview | 2011 West Virginia Offense
- 2011 West Virginia Defense | 2011 West Virginia Depth Chart
- West Virginia Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006


Offense: Marshall's struggles on offense show no signs of going away. A year after ranking No. 11 in Conference USA scoring and total offense, the Herd could be stuck in neutral once again in 2011. The problem is that the program has a dearth of catalysts to get the attack cranking and put defenses on their heels. Whoever wins the job, A.J. Graham or Eddie Sullivan, quarterback will be the domain of a raw and untested sophomore. The running game ranked 114th nationally a year ago and the offensive line has undergone some serious turnover. The wide receiver tandem of Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson will be the strength of the offense, but will you know it if the young quarterbacks can't deliver the ball consistently? Lacking the scoring punch to make a quick turnaround, Marshall will continue to have problems moving the chains and putting points on the board.

Defense: Thrust into the coordinator's seat last February, Chris Rippon did a fine job in his first season in Huntington. The Herd ranked fourth in Conference USA total defense and scoring D, while leading the league in sacks. Now, the coach is demanding that his unit be even better. Marshall returns nine starters from that group. While LB Mario Harvey is a monstrous loss, the return of DE Vinny Curry, who considered leaving early, softens the blow. He's an early candidate for the conference's defensive player of the year, with a shot to go national in 2011. A lot of the credit a year ago belongs with a secondary that flew past expectations to become an unexpected strength. With FS Omar Brown carrying the banner, just about everyone of significance returns to the defensive backfield. The biggest need area, though, centers on takeaways, something the Herd has been unable to master over the past few seasons.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Aaron Dobson. When Antavious Wilson was saddled with injuries last fall, Dobson took advantage by catching a Herd-best 44 passes for 689 yards and five touchdowns. A big-play receiver, he's averaging close to 20 yards a catch for his career and has nine scoring receptions already. At 6-3 and 203 pounds, he has the size to leap above defensive backs and the speed to stride past them. With Wilson healthy again, this should be one of the best receiving tandems in Conference USA.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Vinny Curry. The classic case of a late-bloomer, Curry has gone from overlooked recruit to a pro prospect. One of the nation's top pass rushers in 2010, he piled up 94 tackles, 18 stops for loss, and a dozen sacks. Fast around the edge, with the long arms to swim past opposing tackles, he's quickly becoming a complete defensive end. Beyond just the physical attributes, he also has a tremendous work ethic, bringing energy and intensity to the defense.

West Virginia

Offense: Buh-bye, Jeff Mullen. Hello, Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers are making a dramatic shift on offense, installing Holgorsen's version of the spread. It'll be fast-paced and lean more heavily on the passing game, yet still strive for some balance. His last production at Oklahoma State, for instance, ranked third nationally in scoring and total offense, but also averaged more than 174 yards a game and five yards a carry. The system will be built around QB Geno Smith, who delivered a terrific debut as a starter, earning second team All-Big East honors. Once he learns the nuances of a new offense, he'll just keep getting better. The situation at the skill positions is far more fluid. While there are some safe bets at receiver, like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, the backfield is a toss-up that won't shake out until August. West Virginia also needs improved play from a veteran line that underachieved in 2010 and a better grip on the ball. Last year's squad lost 20 fumbles, which tied Georgia Tech for most in the country.

Defense: Jeff Casteel doesn't need attention from athletic directors to validate his standing in the coaching ranks. He gets plenty of well-deserved recognition for the work he does as the Mountaineer coordinator. One of the best in the business and the architect of the program's unique 3-3-5 stack, he continues to put forth a stingy and athletic defensive unit. His most recent version was one of his best, ranking in the top ten in sacks, run defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Reprising that performance, however, will require replacing seven starters, five who earned All-Big East honors. If Casteel can handle that challenge, he ought to have his salary doubled. The cornerstones of the rebuilt D will be DE Bruce Irvin and DT Julian Miller up front, Najee Goode at linebacker, and CB Keith Tandy and SS Terence Garvin in the secondary. They're enough to keep West Virginia from getting soft, but a repeat of 2010's dominance isn't likely.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Geno Smith. Smith had about as good a debut as a young passer could have, finishing 241-of-372 for 2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven picks to land on the All-Big East second team. For good measure, he also flashed nice mobility, rushing for another 217 yards. He has all of the tools that coaches look for in a quarterback, including an accurate arm and poise in the pocket. And best of all, he's only going to get better in a system designed to accentuate his myriad skills.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Bruce Irvin. At this time last season, Irvin was a complete unknown, even on the West Virginia campus. Today, he's an All-American candidate, with a future in the NFL. Even as a situational pass rusher, his talent broke through in his first season removed from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Community College. Instant electricity off the snap, he harassed opposing quarterbacks from start to finish, collecting 14 sacks and nearly leading the entire country.