Mountaineers kick off 2012 vs. Marshall
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 21:05
Last season in the annual Friends of Coal Bowl, West Virginia defeated Marshall 34-13 in a shortened game that lasted nearly seven hours through two lightning delays.
In Dana Holgorsen’s first game as head coach, WVU racked up 291 total yards of offense led by Geno Smith’s 249 passing yards and two touchdowns. Marshall took an early lead after Andre Booker took an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Herd offense ran the ball effectively led by Tron Martinez.
The game was sealed by West Virginia when Tavon Austin had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score with five minutes left to go in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers are 11-0 all-time against Marshall, but when WVU opens up 2012 in the 12th edition of the Friends of Coal Bowl, there will be a more developed team in green and white on the other side of the field.
This Thundering Herd team is a year better, and starting quarterback Rakeem Cato has gained a year of experience under center. Through the offseason, Cato improved himself from freshman starting quarterback to legitimate starting quarterback. A Miami native, Cato threw 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011 and should have an even better sophomore campaign in 2012.
"He really improved this spring, and we are certainly looking forward to him continuing to make additional progress," said Marshall co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen. "Playing last season as a true freshman really helped him."
Probably the biggest change for Marshall since Doc Holliday took control was the ability to lure quality players like Cato to Huntington, W.Va.
Holliday, known for recruiting during his time at WVU, was able to recruit players like Robert Sands, Josh Jenkins and Jorge Wright. And since he’s been at Marshall, the recruiting map has been similar for Holliday. He has gone into Florida to get good athletes while also taking some key pieces from inside the state.
In Holliday’s 2012 recruiting class at Marshall, they snatched seven players from Florida including four-star recruit corner A.J. Legget from South Miami High School, who selected Marshall in lieu of offers from Alabama, Miami (FL), Florida and South Carolina. Legget should be someone to step in and play right away for the Herd.
Looking back at the Marshall offense, it is all about their duo of running backs Tron Martinez and Travon Van. Both were held out of spring practice after offseason surgeries, but the two combined for more than 1,200 yards on the ground in 2011. Martinez and Van complement each other very well and did a great job last season taking the load of off Cato’s shoulders. For 2012, both Martinez and Van will be joined by Kevin Rodriguez in the backfield. Rodriguez turned some heads during spring camp and should get the chance to be on the field as a scat-back type for the Herd once the season rolls around.
These three backs will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters from a year ago in Chris Jasperse, Garrett Scott and John Bruhin.
Though the run game is the focal point of the Herd offense, the most talented player on the unit is at wide receiver in Aaron Dobson. The 6-foot-3, physical wide out has big play ability. He hauled in 12 touchdowns in 2011. Dobson is the most dangerous player on the Thundering Herd. Others to contribute at the position are Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker.
Flipping to the defensive side, the noticeable absence is Vinny Curry. Selected 59th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Draft, Curry was the 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. He compiled 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss last year for Marshall. This season, someone is going to have to step in and at least provide half of the threat that Curry gave Marshall. Thundering Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon knows it’ll be tough to replace a guy like Curry.
"You don’t simply replace a player the caliber of a Vinny Curry," Rippon said. "He was a marquee player for us who left a tremendous mark on the program. Right now on the defensive line, we’re inexperienced and young, but we have Jeremiah Taylor back, who we feel can be a dominant force there."
Last season, Taylor totaled 45 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Another departure that has been overshadowed by the loss of Curry is that Omar Brown, the Herd’s leading tackler a year ago, also graduated.
The Herd will look to get tackling production from the linebacker core since Devin Arrington and Jermaine Holmes are back. Last season, Arrington and Holmes combined for 103 tackles – 10 tackles less than Brown.
And in the secondary, the Marshall coaches should see some good competition come fall camp. With established corners Monterius Lovett and Darryl Roberts back along with Phillip Warren, there should at least be a three-way battle.
Add top recruit A.J. Legget into the mix and Marshall has some quality depth back at the second level. They will need all of that depth in week one against West Virginia’s "Air Raid" offense.