Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato may be a little more surprised than this when he runs into WVU's new 3-4 attacking defense.
New season, same Staring Down The Musket feature. You know the drill by now, even if you don't know much about the teams on WVU's schedule. Fortunately, the first team is a familiar foe. Marshall returns most of their offense from last year, most notably now-sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato and dangerous receiver Aaron Dobson, but replaces their best defensive players with a host of transfers. Evidently Marshall was the second choice for a lot of guys who signed at ACC schools? Anyway, since there is no Marshall blog on SBNation, we ventured into uncharted waters and tracked down the Marshall Thundering Blog to answer a few questions. Here is what they had to say:
Country Roads: Last year in Morgantown, Rakeem Cato was asked simply to manage the game, prevent turnovers, and generally keep Marshall in the game. He had a relative amount of success, throwing for 115 yards and no touchdowns and allowing Tron Martinez to rush for 76 yards on just 10 carries. He seemed to improve over the course of the season, though, and now with a year of experience under his belt, he seems more equipped to handle more of the offense. What do you expect Marshall's offensive game plan to be, and how much will the herd rely on Cato to try to win the game, as opposed to simply managing it like last year?
Marshall Thundering Blog: All signs point to Rakeem Cato being more involved in this years offense. Many articles about Cato during the off-season centered around his improved maturity.
As a whole expect Marshall to turn up the pace this Saturday. The Herd has been working out of the no-huddle during two-a-days and getting to the line quickly has been an emphasis. I am not expecting a different style on offense, the read-option/spread looks will return but, I do expect better execution.
Also, watch out for two newcomers at running back. Marshall has a pair of runners, Kevin Grooms and Stewart Buttler who are eligible after sitting out last season. Before coming to Marshall Grooms was a Miami commitment while Butler was slated to attend Arizona State. Both have wowed reports this August with their speed.
Speaking about running backs don't expect to see Tron Martinez Saturday, he is out with a knee injury.
MTB: I am a big Aaron Dobson fan, like you said he has been a huge asset for the Herd. If Cato has enough time to throw the ball Dobson will get open. I think that is true for any quality wide receiver, not just Dobson.
If the WVU defense can shut down Marshall's running game and get pressure on Cato the Thundering Herd will be in for a long day.
CR: The Marshall defense did a pretty good job of bottling up the Mountaineer running game in 3 quarters of play last year, holding the ground game to 42 yards on 26 carries. But studs like Vinny Curry are gone, and the WVU offense looks to have improved since their first game under Dana Holgorsen. Who are Marshall's biggest playmakers on defense, and what is a reasonable point total that the Herd can expect to hold WVU to?
MTB: Starting from the inside out Marshall has two big play makers at defensive tackle. Although their work often goes unnoticed Brandon Sparrow and Marques Aiken do a great job clogging up the middle.
At linebacker look out for senior Devin Arrington. Arrington was the only safety in college football with a neck roll last year and he is back at his natural position for 2012. He really excels in space and is a senior leader for the defense.
Moving to corner Penn State transfer Derrick Thomas instantly upgraded the Herds secondary upon his arrival in August. Thomas and WVU wide receiver Tavon Austin have a long history together dating back to their time as high school rivals in Maryland. Should be a fun battle to watch on Saturday.
Another set of BCS transfers, Boston College safeties Okechukwu Okoroha and Dominick LeGrande were listed a-top the depth chart yesterday. They have not played a competitive football game in over a year but, both have impressed this August.
Good question on the reasonable point total. If I am Doc Holliday I would hope defensive coordinator Chris Rippon could hold the Mountaineer defense to no more than 28 points.
CR: This issue has been beaten to death, but what is your personal opinion on the future (or lack thereof) of the Friends of Coal Bowl? Obviously it presents a huge opportunity for Marshall to notch a quality win over a higher-ranked opponent, but is it good for the state and fans? Should it continue? If so, under what terms?
MTB: I believe the Friends of Coal Bowl is good for the state of West Virginia. With that being said I understand WVU's hesitation to play the game. It's a big loss if the Mountaineers lose to Marshall and a quality, but relatively minor victory if they win.
Marshall's frustration really centers around WVU's multi-year, one-for-one series with fellow Conference USA member ECU. If WVU can sign a contract like that with the Pirates why not Marshall?
The real shame is the two schools have stopped playing in everything but basketball. Marshall and WVU share a facility for baseball but they don't meet for an out of conference game. This season will be the first in years that the Volleyball teams don't meet for the golden ball. How do either of those situations make sense?
CR: Okay, prediction time. The Herd has had WVU on the ropes during both games in Huntington, and was hanging around last year until Tavon Austin's kick return TD and the rain delay put a damper on their plans, but generally the boys from Huntington haven't fared as well in Morgantown. What does Marshall need to do to pull off their first-ever win in the series? How do you see the final score shaping up?
MTB: I won't say Marshall needs to get lucky this Saturday to win but, they need to create their own breaks. First and foremost win the turnover battle, preferably avoid giving up any turnovers at all. Second, get an explosive play. Something similar to Andre Snipes-Booker's kickoff return for six last year or Aaron Dobson's long touchdown reception in 2010.
Getting a little bit more specific Marshall needs to get off the field on third down. Geno Smith made a number of long third down conversions last year and it killed the Herd. On defense Marshall must keep the Mountaineer receiving core in in front of them. The Thundering Herd won't be able to win if they let Austin and company make long receptions.
Alright predication time, as a Marshall grad and ardent supporter I have to go with the Herd. Through my green colored glasses I can see a 28-24 Thundering Herd victory.