"We know they went to Oregon, looked at them," WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "They might try some different things with tempo that we haven't seen."
Complete with picture billboards featuring faces of ESPN personalities, pictures of presidents, characters of cartoons? Probably not. And, truth told, this isn't anything new. Coaching staff's routinely make rounds to learn new schemes, ideas, share secrets. Don't look for Marshall to call plays with giant poster boards with pictures on them, as Oregon does. Do expect some fast-tempo, hurry-up, perhaps no-huddle play. And why not? MU is an road underdog against a top 15 foe it has never beaten. What's more, said opponent has a new defensive system, one that might have players thinking more than reacting early, and what better why to push those implosion buttons than some fast play?
"Until you get out there, you really don't know," defensive line coach Erik Slaughter said of the Mountaineers' reaction. "I hope they respond the way we think they will. We are going to play hard. That's nonnegotiable."
Marshall struggled against WVU last season, then-true freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato piecing together an inconsistent but gritty performance in a 34-13 loss. Now, the set-up has changed. It's West Virginia that has the new system to learn, the new calls and assignments. And a true freshman safety in Karl Joseph, making obviously his first start. Cato now has the experience edge, at least if Marshall has mantained the majority of its system used last season - and it appears it has.
"They got a great running back, the quarterback is playing better off of what I saw last year, they have a great receiver," DeForest said. "They are very dangerous on offense. We just have to make sure we are ready. Hey, it's difficult whether it's the first game or eighth game. You have to adjust and be able to call your defenses a lot quicker when they tempo you. You gotta look at the personnel, look at the call sheet and see what you planned to call and you may not be able to call that because you don't have your personnel in there. Tempo is going to be a big thing. Even though our offfense tempos us, our kids are going to have to learn to get the call, get lined up, get their feet set and make a play."
Current West Virginia special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Steve Dunlap, who has more than a decade of experience as a major college defensive coordinator, said it isn't so much the speed, but the change that seems to bug defenses the most.
"Changing gears bothers me more than anything," said Dunlap, who served as defensive coordinator at both WVU and Marshall, among others. "The tempo thing, what really bothers me is they go fast for awhile, then they slow up. They go slow, then they speed up. It's the change. You don't know what the speed is because it's constantly changing. It's like our offense. They could go warp speed, they can go middle speed and they can go slow. If you stay at a constant, you get accustomed to it."
The question becomes what if, indeed, Marshall catches West Virginia with less-than-ideal groupings in the game? Both DeForest and Dunlap said, essentially ... so what? It's bound to happen, and that's why the staff has practiced it, as put in tweaks to adjust - and the 3-4 adjusts as well as any defense, with its multiple fronts, rushers and look.
"The number one thing is to be able to get lined up, not having guys spread all the way across the field," Dunlap said. "You get that, and we have provisions in the defense we can use to help us if they go faster."
Marshall used the no-huddle in a more traditional sense last season. At the end of halves, end of games, when trailing. But it didn't typically turn to it in any other situation, especially with a young quarterback. So this could be as much a test for the Thundering Herd as it is for West Virginia. There's no sense operating fast if even your own offense can't effectively do it - and if it can, it certainly doesn't have Oregon's talent level. Which team can capitalize on the tempo, control and hone it to its advantage with the available players? That should go a long way to deciding the victor on each side of the ball for both squads.
"They are going to run some plays we haven't practiced," DeForest said. "And what we hope, as a defensive staff, is to let your base fundamentals, your base coverages and base pass and run responsabilities, let them take over. We can stop anything and there is a strength and a weakness to everything we do, just like there is a strength and a weakness to anything they do. So our job is, if they do something we haven't seen, let the fundamentals to our defense take over and we should be ok.
"It's a concern any time you play young guys, especially the first game of the year. They don't understand how fast football moves in college. The biggest difference between high school and college is speed of the game. The biggest difference between college and the NFL is speed of the game. It moves much faster. We have to do a great job of gang tackling and swarming the ball, whoever has it."