“I don’t know how many times it’s been played, but based on last year, me being involved with it for the first year, it’s a game that means a lot to the people of West Virginia, it means a lot to both teams for bragging rights in the state and all that,” Holgorsen said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
“I know watching all of Marshall’s games last year, which I watched all of them over the course of the last week, they played considerably harder against West Virginia than they did any other team out there. We’re obviously expecting to get their best. They’ve got a good bit of people coming back. They had a lot of young kids last year. The biggest thing is for our guys to understand we’re going to get their absolute best and we have to play good in order to win.”
Quality play for the Mountaineers against the Herd will begin on the defensive side of the ball, where WVU will hope to contain Marshall’s star receiver Aaron Dobson.
A 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior from Dunbar and a South Charleston High School alumnus, Dobson was his team’s leading receiver in 2011, hauling in 49 catches for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the MVP of Marshall’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win over Florida International.
“He’s a big, good looking kid, a returning starter who does a good job at being a physical guy that can block and make catches that are pretty spectacular,” Holgorsen said of Dobson. “He’s obviously a guy that caught our eye and he is one of the bigger focus points in order of what we need to do to win the game.”
Dobson and the rest of the Marshall receivers have the benefit of a more experienced quarterback throwing the ball to them this season, as Rakeem Cato will start at that position after playing as a true freshman in 2011.
Cato had an up-and-down year, completing 182 of 304 passes (59.8 percent) for 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns. Turnovers were an issue, as one might expect with a true freshman, as Cato tossed 11 interceptions.
“Going back and looking, he experienced some growing pains, which all freshmen do, especially at the quarterback position,” Holgorsen said of Cato. “I guess question No. 1 is ‘What offense are they going to run?’ There’s been some speculation on that. Hopefully he’s learning a second offense in as many years. But he has shown some pretty good signs of being a special kind of quarterback. He won a lot of games in high school. We’ll have to contain him, there’s no doubt.”
Holgorsen indicated there is still a chance that running back Dustin Garrison, who returned to action in preseason camp after tearing his ACL in practice before January’s Orange Bowl, could redshirt this season, but no decision has been made yet.
“He was sore last week so we gave him a few days off,” the head coach said. “The plan all along has been to get him to game week, then get him out there and see what happens. We haven’t made that decision at this point.”
“We know Shawne Alston will start for us. He ended the season being a starter for us in the bowl game. He’s a senior who had a great camp and we’re looking forward to getting him out there. Andrew Buie is doing some good things as well.”
In terms of another development at running back, Holgorsen addressed the hasty departure of freshman Torry Clayton.
“He said he wanted to go home, so he withdrew from school and voluntarily left the program. You’d have to ask him [why],” Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineer signed two running backs as part of February’s recruiting class, neither of which are with the program now. Clayton’s fellow signee, Roshard Burney, failed to qualify academically.
Given the distinct possibility this could be the last matchup between Marshall and WVU for the foreseeable future, Holgorsen was asked if he expected this game to have just a bit more juice to it than other season openers.
In the process of answering, he subtly indicated the program’s scheduling priorities may not line up with keeping the Thundering Herd on the slate moving forward.
“Everybody is excited about playing the first game regardless of where it is or who it is,” Holgorsen said. “Obviously, I don’t get too far into future schedules and all that. I know there are challenges, as far as you only have three games you can play nonconference. There’s all kinds of geographical reasons to play not only this game, but surrounding states, with Pitt, Maryland, Ohio, Jersey and the rest of it. That’s why we have great administrators that lead us in the direction we need to go.”