Who: Marshall University Thundering Herd
When: 3:30 Sunday, September 4
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown West Virginia
What to watch for when the ‘Eers have the ball: The debut of Dana Holgorsen's vaunted throw-first, ask-questions-later offense. To hear WVU fans tell it, anything less than a 50+ points per game average will be an epic failure. All eyes will be on Geno Smith as he takes his first steps towards what could be a very exciting two years of football. It will also be interesting to see if the offensive line is much-improved, since it has switched back to the zone-blocking schemes this season that most of these guys were recruited to play. Holgorsen has also recently said that he expects to use as many as seven different guys out of the backfield, going with whichever runner appears to have the hot hand. West Virginia has oodles of talent at the skill positions, and it will be interesting to see which guys play their way to the top. I expect great things out of Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey, but I also expect to be gushing about some other member of the receiving corps by Monday morning.
What to watch for when the Herd has the ball: Marshall sends out freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato to face the Mountaineer defense and, while he's just a pup, he's the best bet the Herd has. While most defenses would salivate at the possibility of facing a first-year quarterback in his very first game, this Mountaineer defense has plenty of its own questions to answer. Outside of Bruce Irvin, Najee Goode, Julian Miller and Keith Tandy, the ‘Eers are looking for people to step up and fill out the rest of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5. I'll be watching for whether or not Marshall's receivers are running free, regardless of if Cato can get them the ball. West Virginia's inexperience on defense shouldn't cost them against Marshall, but a good showing would help ease my fears.
The Mountaineers will roll if: The Holgorsen offense is everything that we've been promised and Geno makes good decisions with the football. If the defense can make Rakeem Cato look like the freshman he is. If the gold and blue faithful show up and get loud at Milan Puskar stadium (now with beer!).
The Mountaineers will struggle if: If the offensive line can't keep Marshall defenders out of Geno's face, the high-flying Mountaineer offense could end up grounded. The West Virginia defensive backs will need to keep their men in front of them or else the Herd could keep pace on the scoreboard.
Thing that makes my blood boil: The so-called "Friends of Coal Bowl." I find it distasteful that a PAC is sponsoring a football game, especially one of this magnitude. If you really want to talk positively about the coal industry in West Virginia, it should be called the "United Mine Workers of America Bowl." Instead both of the state's leading educational institutions would prefer to kowtow to industry. WVU has gone all in on its coal theme this season, adding a 350-pound chunk of coal from the Upper Big Branch mine to their pregame festivities along with a pre-game walk called the Mountaineer Mantrip. If you thought that a Mantrip was a dudes-only vacation, you'd be with the majority. Apparently it's the vehicle that brings miners into the coal mines. Who knew?