State faces stern test in opener vs. J.C. Smith
Eager to put last season's 1-9 finish behind, West Virginia State launches its season at home today against Johnson C. Smith.
Kickoff at Lakin Field in Institute is 1 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets have not enjoyed a winning season since they went 7-3 in 2008, and they'll have to start their quest by reversing a rout from last season. In Charlotte, N.C., the Bulls rolled up 630 total yards and forced four turnovers in a 64-27 runaway.
State coach Earl Monroe knows it won't get much easier.
"They're big, athletic. They do a lot of pulls up front and they're good at it," he said. "They've got really good receivers, athletes out there. They throw a lot of bubble screens to make you defend the perimeter and tackle well.
"We moved the ball quite a bit against them last year, but we had to work to get up and down the field and score. Their speed and size is a big concern for us."
A better performance is paramount, considering State's two subsequent contests - North Carolina A&T and Elon, both Division I FCS schools, both away. The Yellowjackets' eight-game West Virginia Conference schedule commences Sept. 22 at home against Concord.
Ricky Phillips is back behind center for State, fresh from throwing for 2,460 yards last year. He has Ervin Kent (34 catches, 580 yards) back, but needs rushing help from Fairmont State transfer Aubrey Taylor, LeFloyd Phillip and a trimmer Felix Mollett.
State has just one returning starter on the interior line. Monroe has brought in two big junior-college transfers who need to contribute right away.
"Hopefully we can establish a running game which will take pressure off Ricky, and hopefully he won't press like he has to make a big play every single down," Monroe said.
Monroe's defense is almost starting over, after a number of players didn't return - some voluntarily, some due to discipline issues.
The top two tacklers from 2011, Chris Young and Riverside alum Tyler Long, will return and vie for time at middle linebacker. Dominique Matthews is back at safety, and T.J. Austin is moving up to defensive end.
"Now we've got to get those guys to believe in what they're doing and make adjustments as the game goes on, and those are things we did not do well," Monroe said. "And we couldn't get critical stops."
This will be the first time since 2009 the Jackets have opened at home.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.