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On Paper, West Virginia Should Not Have an Issue

Norfolk State similar to WVU in what it likes to do offensively

September 8, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - On paper, it looks like Norfolk State is a small-school version of West Virginia. The Spartans run a spread offense not unlike that of the Mountaineers, and their defense is coordinated by a guy (Mark DeBastiani) who learned while playing for, and later coaching with, West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel at Shepherd University.

''If that's the case,'' West Virginia defensive cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said, ''I like our chances a little more.''

The Mountaineers' chances were already pretty good. Norfolk State, which was 6-5 last season, is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, and West Virginia has never lost to a FCS team. The last time the Mountaineers met one - last season's opener against Coastal Carolina - they won, 31-0.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen isn't looking at it quite that way, though.

''You have to be able to read your team every week,'' he said. ''It doesn't matter who you're playing because they all count as a win, and some games are obviously more challenging than others. Some opponents are more challenging than others. Your job as a coach is to get them ready to play every week.''

So the fact that NSU has won five straight dating back to last season - a streak that correlates with the change to a spread offense - and has a defense that gave up the sixth-fewest yards in the country means little to Holgorsen.

''They spread it, they do some motion, they run the ball with a motion guy like we do, which should help Jeff with it since he's seen us. It should help our offense prepare for these guys because it's familiar with what we offer defensively. Whether it is or it isn't, our job is still to prepare our guys for whatever we're seeing on film.''

And hope their eyes don't tell lies.

''They may come out and do something completely different, which most teams do, but it shouldn't be a problem figuring out what they're going to do based on the familiarity we have with our own defense,'' Holgorsen said. ''They tackle well. They're in the right spots and it looked to me like they were flying around out there. They look pretty good to me.''

In a 37-3 victory against Virginia State last Saturday, Spartans quarterback Chris Walley wound up as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Week after he completed 25 of 29 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.

West Virginia, meanwhile, beat Marshall 34-13 in a game that was shortened because of lightning. The offense, save for a lack of running game, looked good. The defense didn't give up a score.

But there's a difference, apparently, between looking good, and being good. The coaches found plenty of problems on the film of that game, most of them dealing with blocking, or a lack thereof.

''When you think about blocking, all you think about is the offensive line,'' Holgorsen said. ''That's not necessarily the truth. Some of the running game problems were the running backs not blocking for the other backs. Some of the running game problems were inside receivers not blocking for running backs. The others' blocking was just as bad as the offensive line's blocking. The name of the game offensively is blocks. We have to do a better job with that.''

Along those lines, West Virginia sophomore Pat Eger, who made his first career start, was disappointed in his play.

''Wasn't as good as I wanted,'' he said. ''We just need to finish blocks. We were on the right people, we just need to stay on longer, make bigger holes for our backs.''

With this being a short week (two games in six days), they'll get that chance in a hurry.

Notes

As part of WVU's remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Gathering of Mountain Eagle wounded veterans group will be in attendance for Saturday's game, recognized on the field and take part in the opening coin toss. Former Mountaineer quarterback Chris Gray, a victim of 9/11, will be one of the honorary captains for the game.

Veterans who have served recently in the armed forces and have returned to campus as WVU students or faculty/staff members will be honored on the field during the game. First responders, including police, firefighters and EMS workers also will be recognized. There will be a moment of silence in remembrance of the events of 9/11 at the end of the first quarter and then the WVU marching band will play God Bless America.

Members of the West Virginia National Guard and their families will be in attendance.