EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
n Date with WVU: Saturday, Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m. (Root Sports)
n Site: Mountaineer Field (60,000, FieldTurf), Morgantown
n Series: First meeting
n Coach: Rob Ambrose (6th year, 32-29)
Checking them out
A week after opening the season against perennial national championship contender Alabama, West Virginia begins its home schedule against a team that actually came closer to a title last season than did the Tide.
OK, so it was the FCS title, but still, Towson did something ’Bama didn’t, making it to the title game.
That the Tigers were even in the conversation for a national title would have seemed ludicrous just a few years ago. Rob Ambrose was an offensive coach, including a stint as coordinator, under Randy Edsall at Connecticut and when he returned to his alma mater in 2009, he went 2-9 and 1-10, finishing last in the Colonial Athletic Association both years.
But then followed seasons of 9-3, 7-4 and 13-3. The Tigers went to Hartford and beat down UConn 33-18 to start last season, stayed in the FCS Top 10 all season and beat the Nos. 2 and 3 teams on the road in the playoffs before losing to No. 1 North Dakota State in the finals.
This year? Well, there is a huge rebuilding job in the works. Towson lost 17 seniors from that team, including quarterback Peter Athens and wide receiver Leon Kinnard, both stars. All-American Erik Pike is also gone, along with every other full-time starter on the offensive line. But the biggest blow came when junior running back Terrance West elected to enter the NFL draft. All he’d done before being picked in the third round by the Browns was rush for 2,509 yards and 42 touchdowns last season, almost 5,000 yards and 86 touchdowns in his three years.
Still, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Fullback Emmanuel Holder was an All-America selection, as was cornerback Tye Smith, although Smith sat out much of spring injured. The defense is reasonably well-stocked with seven returning starters that include Smith and two other All-CAA selections, safety Christian Carpenter and lineman Ryan Delaire, although the defensive anchor, linebacker Telvion Clark, is gone. The offense also has receiver Spencer Wilkins, who had four 100-yard receiving games in 2013, and running back Darius Victor, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry while basically watching West carry the load.
Junior Connor Frazier has some experience in the offense at quarterback (as well as receiver and punter), although much of that was in wildcat situations. He did step in and lead two fourth-quarter TD drives in the national semifinals after Athens was hurt, scoring the winning touchdown with 17 seconds to play. The other option is senior Joe Brennan, who began his career at Wisconsin but hawwsn’t played much at all in two years at Towson. No matter who wins the job, the offense is still likely to depend upon the run more than the pass.
n Offense: FB Emmanuel Holder, WR Spencer Wilkins, RB Darius Victor
n Defense: CB Tye Smith, DE Ryan Delaire, S Christian Carpenter
n Special teams: KR Derrick Joseph
Towson’s offensive coordinator is Jared Ambrose, the head coach’s brother and a former player and coach at Shepherd. … Towson’s graduation losses didn’t end at offense and defense. The kicker also must be replaced, although kick returner Derrick Joseph returns. … Despite all the personnel losses, Towson is ranked 10th in the FCS in at least one preseason poll by Athlon.
Date Opponent 2013
Aug. 30 Central Connecticut DNP
Sept. 6 at West Virginia DNP
Sept. 13 Delaware State W 49-7
Sept. 20 North Carolina Central W 35-17
Sept. 27 Maine* DNP
Oct. 4 Stony Brook* W 35-21
Oct. 11 at James Madison* W 28-17
Oct. 18 Delaware* L 31-32
Oct. 25 Open
Nov. 1 Elon* DNP
Nov. 8 at Villanova* L 35-45
Nov. 15 William & Mary* W 15-9
Nov. 22 at Rhode Island* DNP
* Colonial Athletic Association games
n 2013 record: 13-3 overall, 6-2 CAA (won 49-39 over Eastern Illinois, won 35-31 over Eastern Washington, lost 7-35 to North Dakota State in FCS playoffs)
n Dropped: Connecticut (W 33-18), Holy Cross (W 49-7), New Hampshire (W 44-28), Albany (W 44-17), Richmond (W 48-32)
— Dave Hickman