Anthony Hanshew: Five points to ponder
Can West Virginia create a push between the tackles against Marshall's defensive front seven?
WVU has struggled in short-yardage scenarios and reasons are varied. Interior blocking hasn't advanced the line; tailbacks -- Noel Devine in particular -- are dynamic but undersized. Finally, the impact of Owen Schmitt's absence (the bulldozing fullback now is with the Seattle Seahawks) can't be underscored.
The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, has proven stout against the run through four games, allowing 118.2 yards a game.
"Defensively, they have (Albert) McClellan back, who is probably going to be the (Conference USA) Defensive Player of the Year again," Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said. "I like the (Ian) Hoskins kid. The big tackles inside are doing well. Their linebackers are just big guys. And their secondary is playing well."
How will WVU's somewhat rattled fan base react if Marshall sprints to another strong start?
The Herd has outscored opponents 31-14 combined in the first quarter; WVU has been outscored 21-14 through the opening 15 minutes.
Times are a bit tense in Morgantown with the Mountaineers, ranked No. 8 less than a month ago, staggering at 1-2 and coming off consecutive losses at East Carolina and Colorado.
"The vibe here hasn't changed," WVU defensive end Scooter Berry said. "The fans still believe in us and we believe in us. We'll play our best."
Marshall head coach Mark Snyder would welcome such a situation, but realizes his team with receive West Virginia's best shot.
"Boy, that would be nice, huh?" Snyder said with a laugh. "We would take that all day. Sounds like a good plan. Unfortunately, I think their defense will probably have a little something to say about that."
Can Mountaineer playmakers Pat White and Noel Devine at least be contained?
Problem No. 1 facing Marshall defensive coordinator Rick Minter is WVU's quick-strike capability. White, the celebrated senior quarterback, is averaging 6.8 yards a carry with a long of 44; Devine, in his first starting season at tailback, has a long of 34 yards and averages 5.8 yards a handoff.
White confounds defenses, breaking big plays that seemingly are well-defended. Often times, he'll stand in the pocket make his reads -- and with everyone covered -- tuck for a long run.
"He's the master at it," Snyder said. "That's what he does. That's why I think he's the most dangerous player. Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat to score running or throwing."
How will WVU's young secondary grade out in its test against Marshall's downfield receiving threats Darius Passmore and Cody Slate?
Passmore merely leads the nation, averaging more than 118 receiving yards a game. The senior wideout has caught 26 passes for 473 yards and four touchdowns. Slate, a junior tight end, has led the Herd in each meaningful receiving category the past two seasons and impressed in last week's return from a sprained knee.
"We know they're going to try to utilize those guys," WVU middle linebacker Reed Williams said. "They do a good job of getting the ball to their playmakers on the outside."
Colorado jumped to a quick 14-0 lead over West Virginia by way of big pass plays and eked out a 17-14 overtime victory. Snyder said lessons have been learned in Morgantown.
"West Virginia has had an extra day (of preparation)," he said. "You always go back and have a correction day. I'm sure they have corrected those problems."
Is Marshall ready to win this game?
Hints at turning the corner began last season, winning three of the final five games and competing well at Houston and Tulsa. Finally, the landmark win was earned last week, a 34-27 upset at Conference USA power Southern Miss.
West Virginia obviously is a different dynamic, on numerous levels. Talent garnered a No. 8 preseason ranking, and Marshall never has defeated its in-state rival in seven opportunities.
The Herd is 3-1, and WVU surprisingly has stumbled to a 1-2 start, but the Mountaineers enter as double-digit favorites.
"I think each year is different," Stewart said. "Now is now and this is the 2008 season. I watched the first game here in 1997 in my living room with my dad and I thought that was a great game.
"What Mark (Snyder) says to them, that's up to Mark and how they get ready. I'm only worried about us and each year is different."
-- Anthony Hanshew
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