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August 28, 2012
After keeping the focus squarely on his own team for the past seven months, head coach Dana Holgorsen turned his attention towards the Mountaineers first opponent Marshall when addressing the media at his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon.
According to Holgorsen, his team could have been ready to play the game last week if need be, and he's comfortable with the amount of live situations the team has been in during the course of the past four weeks.
"We've got it to the point where we know how we're going to line up and what we're going to do," he said.
The Thundering Herd will be entering their third season under former West Virginia assistant coach Doc Holliday, and that continuity, along with the return of around 14 starters from a season ago should result in a better on the field product, Holgorsen said.
"Excited to play our first game and understand the challenges that Marshall will bring to the table. They're going to be a very motivated football team and they're going to want to come up here and play well," he said.
That motivation is something that will be a key for the Mountaineers not only against Marshall, but bringing a level of energy to every contest this season.
"Playing hard means giving great efforts and being a physical football team," he said.
Sophomore Rakeem Cato returns as the Marshall quarterback after starting against West Virginia as a true freshman last season in the 34-13 weather-shortened Mountaineers victory.
"He's a kid that can move around and throw the ball pretty good," Holgorsen said. "It's all about being comfortable in the system."
While no one can predict that happens in the first game of the season, Holgorsen expects that one of the keys to the contest will be the in-game adjustments made by the coaching staff and how quickly that is relayed to the players. To which the second-year head man expressed confidence in his staff.
On the defensive side, the Mountaineers should be ready to go, but Holgorsen does want to see players emerge as leaders such as Najee Goode and Keith Tandy did for the unit a season ago.
Senior running back Shawne Alston will open the season as the starter at running back after very strong spring and fall camps, but a decision on whether sophomore running back Dustin Garrison will see any carries against Marshall has yet to be determined.
That's because the coaching staff wants to further evaluate him in practice this week and will continue to monitor Garrison's progress on a week-to-week basis. Holgorsen was quick to point out that Alston didn't even suit up for the Mountaineers until a few games into the season a year ago.
There has still been on decisions reached on potential redshirts for players and the coaching staff will continue to monitor the situation as the season progresses. Due to the unpredictable nature of injuries in college football some players could be throw in the mix if need be, Holgorsen said.
"I know you guys want some answers on it, but so do we," he said.
Two true freshmen players that not only have definite answers on avoiding a redshirt but will start the season opener are wide receiver Jordan Thompson and free safety Karl Joseph. Holgorsen cited both players understanding of what they need to do and the quality of their camps, still there's always a little reservation with any young player when they see their first in-game action.
"Typically how you practice is how you'll play," he said.
The offensive line was mentioned for their work effort and leadership up to this point and all five starters were mentioned as being improved over this point a season ago by the West Virginia head coach. One key area for the group is the luxury of depth that wasn't available a season ago.
"We're practicing better and practicing smarter," Holgorsen said.
Behind the four starters (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Jordan Thompson) the wide receiver rotations still have not sorted themselves out. Holgorsen expects to "roll people in," during the games but did mention improvement from Ivan McCartney, K.J. Myers and Dante Campbell.
When posed a question about potential distractions with senior members of the team eyeing a possible NFL future, Holgorsen quickly dismissed the notion.
"We're worried about beating Marshall, what our game plans are offensively and defensively and worried about going out there and playing well," he said.