WVU players have experience with Herd head coach, former Mountaineer assistant Doc Holliday
Published: Thursday, September 9, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 9, 2010 22:09
West Virginia safety Robert Sands watched last Thursday's Ohio State-Marshall game as a fan.
It was the Thundering Herd sidelines that got the most of his attention, specifically first-year Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday.
"He looked out of place," Sands said of his former coach.
Holliday left West Virginia after the 2009 season to become Marshall's head coach, the first head coaching position of the 52-year-old's career.
Sands is one of many current players on the Mountaineers' roster who were recruited by Holliday, a list that also includes quarterback Geno Smith, receiver Stedman Bailey and defensive end Jorge Wright.
All say they're proud of the move Holliday made.
"Every coach wants to be a head coach sometime," Sands said. "He finally got his shot. Doc has been around the game a long time, he finally got his opportunity and I'm glad he seized the moment."
Tonight, however, the Mountaineers will look to upend their former coach when West Virginia takes on Marshall at 7 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.
"I can't thank Doc enough for getting me (to WVU)," Smith said. "But now he's on the opposite team – he's our opponent. We're not going to add any extra pressure on ourselves that we don't need."
Holliday will be trying to end the Mountaineers' unbeaten streak against the Herd. Marshall has never beaten WVU in nine chances including a 24-7 loss to West Virginia last year in Morgantown.
Tonight's game is the first time the two teams have played in Huntington since 2007 when the Thundering Herd compiled 387 yards of total offense and entered halftime with a 13-6 lead before West Virginia scored 42 points in the second half to take a 48-23 victory.
West Virginia defensive tackle Chris Neild said playing in Huntington makes a difference in the game, especially with tonight's contest being a nationally televised game on ESPN.
"The last two times we've played them we've beat them, but both were in Morgantown," Neild said. "They always come out with a chip on their shoulder. We have to come out firing on all cylinders."
In Holliday's first game as head coach, Marshall fell to No. 2 Ohio State 45-7 in Columbus. The Herd gave up 529 yards of total offense including giving up 35 points in the first half.
The point differential in MU's opener has made scouting harder for the West Virginia coaching staff.
"They probably had to change a little bit of what they wanted to do because of how the game turned out," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "We got one game on them, and I'm sure they have a lot more that they haven't shown yet."
Offensively, Marshall returns seven starters from last season's 7-6 team including quarterback Brian Anderson and tight end Lee Smith. Smith caught just one pass against Ohio State but is one of the team's go-to receivers along with Antavious Wilson.
Together, the pair has combined for 103 career receptions.
The quarterback position is still questionable, however. Although Anderson returns for his senior year and will likely make his 17th career start tonight, true freshman Eddie Sullivan is challenging for the playing time.
Anderson ended 17-for-28 for 135 yards and one interception against the Buckeyes while Sullivan finished 1-for-7 in limited action.
"They have playmakers out there and kids who can run," Casteel said. "They do some things to keep you off balance. It'll be interesting to see how we handle it Friday night."
Defensively, the Herd returns six starters but lost standout defensive linemen Albert McClellan and James Burke.
The unit does have experience, however, as all but two starters – freshman defensive end James Rouse and sophomore linebacker Devin Arrington – are juniors or seniors.
"We need to come out and execute and not get caught up in the hype," Smith said. "Every game's a rivalry for us because we want to win every game."
West Virginia is 36-7-1 all-time against Conference USA schools.
It will be only the second time the Mountaineers have played at Joan C. Edward Stadium.
"This is to own the state," said WVU running back Noel Devine. "It's the Friday night lights. It's going to be like high school again."