MORGANTOWN - A year ago when West Virginia and Marshall lined up to play, it was the offenses that got most of the pregame attention. But each team also had a defensive star.For West Virginia it was Bruce Irvin, for Marshall Vinny Curry. The two pass-rushing defensive ends would go on to have huge seasons and be drafted - Irvin with the 15th pick by Seattle and Curry with the 59th by Philadelphia.But their impact on last season's WVU-MU game was almost negligible. Irvin had three tackles and one sack. Curry had three tackles and no sacks.Still, both coaching staffs spent considerable time game planning the two. Perhaps that's the reason both were all but negated.This year, there might not be anyone on either side who commands that kind of attention from an opposing offensive coach. But that doesn't mean no one will stand out, perhaps more so than either Irvin or Curry did last year."There's nobody as disruptive as that guy. He was pretty good,'' WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of Curry. "But every year you'll have people step up that you might not think will step up. We don't really know who are going to be the impact players. There might be a guy that didn't play last year and comes out and has a great game. It's just hard to tell.''nn
West Virginia's specialists to start the 2012 season will be exactly the same as they were to start 2011. But will they be the same at the end of the year, or even the end of today's first game?Good question.Last year, Tyler Bitancurt and Corey Smith traded off on the kickoff duties. Smith and Mike Molinari did the same with the punting. They were constantly changing because of lapses in both areas.
Again, Smith will handle kickoffs and punts and Bitancurt field goals and extra points. Molinari is the backup punter, in addition to his duties as Bitancurt's holder."I think Tyler Bitancurt had a pretty good year last year. He was solid when it came to field goals and extra points,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The punting we had some issues. Corey will start for us this year, but our philosophy's always going to be we're going to hold people accountable for what they do, whether it's a kicker, punter, quarterback, O-lineman or our defensive guys. He'll remain the punter as long as the performance is good."I'm looking forward to seeing if he's improved, which I think he has. He'll handle the kickoff duties, as well, and has really looked good as far as that's concerned.''nn
Darwin Cook hasn't even reached his senior season yet, but already he's considered one of the old-timers on West Virginia's defense.
"I feel kind of old out there,'' Cook said. "They call me grandpa.''It is first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest who calls him that and perhaps it's not so much Cook's age as his newfound maturity and experience."It's basically just getting older; older and smarter,'' Cook said. "You understand routes. You're not just out there playing football. You're looking at the whole formation, actually studying it and realizing what you can do.''nn
Don't expect this series to resume anytime soon. West Virginia doesn't have room with just three non-conference openings each year and there is the natural reluctance to give up a home game.Marshall apparently wants to continue the series, but also wants a more even home-and-home arrangement than what turned out to be a 5-for-2 in the now-ending seven-year series.
There's not much wiggle room there on either side.Oh, and don't expect Holgorsen to weigh in either way."I don't get too far into the future schedules and all that,'' Holgorsen said. "I know there are challenges as far as having only three games you can play in the non-conference and there are all kinds of geographical reasons to play not only this game, but [teams] in the surrounding states of [Pennsylvania] and Maryland and Ohio and into Jersey and all the rest of it."That's why we have great administrators that lead us in the direction that we need to go.''nn
And finally, WVU quarterback Geno Smith has added both weight and muscle this season and everyone has noticed, including the offensive linemen assigned to protect him."He's able to take a hit now, I know that,'' guard Jeff Braun said. "But we're not going to let that happen.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.