Tough opener as Herd faces WVU

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — So much for that cupcake opener.

In the past, the Marshall Thundering Herd has tried to find an easy team to get the season started and work out any problems and improve their timing.

But not this season as the Herd heads a few hours north to play instate rival West Virginia, ranked fifth in the Associated Press preseason poll.

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“You always like to open against a 1-AA school to see where you are, like a preseason game if you will,” said Herd second-year head coach Mark Snyder.

“On the other side, we get open up against of the best teamsin the country and they are deserving of the ranking. We will find out really fast how good we are and where we need to improve.”

The Mountaineers boast an offense featuring All-American running back Steve Slaton (5-10, 190) and quarterback Patrick White (6-2, 190).

“They are very talented. They both bring things to the table. They stretch the field vertically and horizontally with their athleticism,” Snyder said

Marshall also banks on its tandem of running back Ahmad Bradshaw (5-11, 192), a Doak Walker candidate, and quarterback Bernie Morris (6-4, 211). West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez is very aware of the duo’s capabilities.

“I think it starts with Bradshaw. He’s a great back and he makes a lot of people miss. He always gets positive yards,” Rodriguez said.

“Morris is the guy who reminds me of our quarterbacks. He can run. We expect them to run some option and we expect some quarterback runs and things that we do.”

Marshall comes into the game at a disadvantage, and not just because it has to play in front of 60,000 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium. Snyder suspended leading receiver Hiram Moore for the game after the senior was arrested early Sunday morning on four different charges.

Marcus Fitzgerald is expected to start in Moore’s place with Matt Morris and Emanuel Spann figuring to play.

Snyder is more concerned about the running game and matching WVU’s speed.

“The key is who is going to stop the run,” Snyder said. “If one team is able to establish the running game, that also opens up the big-play pass that they can use to take a shot down the field.

“There is definitely match ups in our speed on out defense and their speed on offense. I’ll be brash to say their speed on defense and our speed on offense with our quarterback situation is another. They are going to have to match our speed also.”

Marshall and West Virginia are meeting for the first time since 1997. WVU has won all previous meetings including a 42-31 come-from-behind win in 1997.

“It would be a great win for us, obviously. It would be a great win, but we have to move on to 11 more games,” Snyder said.

Kickoff is 3:30 p.m.