MORGANTOWN - There is a common and rather repetitive theme that crops up every time Dana Holgorsen is asked about West Virginia's about-to-end football series with Marshall.And since the WVU coach has been involved in only one of the six previous games between the teams, thankfully it has nothing to do with the same tired, old arguments elicited by either side for or against the matchup.No, instead it's very straight and to the point and directly related to the competition on the field, which for a change is rather refreshing.Well, it is unless you happen to be Holgorsen and you have to deal with it."I know that from watching all of Marshall's games from last year - and I've watched all of them over the course of the last week - they played considerably harder against West Virginia than they did against any other team out there,'' Holgorsen said. "So we're obviously expecting to get their best.''Unsaid in there is the flip side, which is how hard West Virginia played against Marshall. Holgorsen won't address that this week, but he did on several occasions last season. Not only did Marshall play hard, the Herd played harder than West Virginia.OK, so the 34-13 final score might not indicate that, but that's the way Holgorsen saw it. And he wasn't happy about it, either.Which, of course, begs the question of why. And that leads to the obvious answer, too, which is that West Virginia is a bigger game for Marshall than the Marshall game is for West Virginia. Cut it up and dissect it any way you'd like, but it's not even worthy of debate.For Marshall, a win over West Virginia would be talked about like - and for as long as - West Virginia's win over Penn State in 1988. For West Virginia, a win over Marshall is another win over Marshall.And while Holgorsen refuses to go there specifically, he understands that as well as anyone. It's the basis for why Marshall, in his eyes, plays harder than West Virginia in this game. And he should know because he's seen it from both sides.
"When I was at Houston we played [Texas] Tech and Oklahoma State,'' Holgorsen said. "It's just playing up a conference. They're going to play hard. It's like Oklahoma State playing Tulsa, I guess - Conference USA-Big 12."There have been several games [like that] that have existed over the last 10 years that have been competitive. I know when we were at Houston one year we beat both Tech and Oklahoma State.''So how, then, to grasp the attention of his players and somehow manage to coax a similar effort is the dilemma that faces Holgorsen. It helps, of course, that while this might be only his second WVU-MU game it is the third or fourth for some of his players. Certainly they remember needing to drive nearly 100 yards twice in the final minutes of the game in 2010 in Huntington just to force overtime. And if they weren't around for that, well, then maybe they recall leading by only a touchdown in the third quarter last year.The bottom line, though, is that motivation is a constant source of angst for coaches. Rich Rodriguez was always fond of saying that you only play 12 of these things a year with the hopes of playing a 13th, so what's the problem?Well, there is a problem.
"Regardless of who we played [last season], whether it was Marshall or LSU when they were the No. 1 team in the country, it's always like that. Highly motivated teams are dangerous. And we know Marshall is going to be a highly motivated team,'' Holgorsen said. "One of the three things we talk about a lot around here is playing hard, which means giving great effort and being a physical football team. That's something regardless of whether we're playing Marshall or the so-called No. 1 team in the country, we're always going to talk about that. Having lack of effort is something that is not going to be tolerated around here.''One gets the feeling that Holgorsen actually couldn't care less about this whole WVU-MU series, which again is rather refreshing. It's not that he doesn't take Marshall seriously or that he takes the Herd too seriously. He simply has no preconceived notions or long-standing ties, so it's just another game. He's not like Don Nehlen, who had to endure the verbal tweaks of Bob Pruett, or Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, state natives who grew up in the absence of the game, which for decades was just as volatile a subject as finally playing it was."We're excited about this being the first game. I don't care who we're playing, to be honest with you,'' he said. "We sit there and we watch film and we come up with the best game plan that we can and everybody's excited about playing regardless of where it is or who it is.''Or at least he hopes that's the case.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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