MORGANTOWN-Second-year West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgerson took part in his first Big 12 media teleconference on Monday and held nothing back as he addressed the Mountaineers' preparation for the upcoming season.
One of the most-asked questions centered around the team's new defensive scheme and the youth movement fans can expect to see when the old gold and blue play host to instate opponent Marshall University in the Friends of Coal Bowl at noon Saturday, Sept. 1.
"We knew that we would have a strange combination," Holgorsen explained. "We feel like we have seven or eight true freshmen that we are going to have to play. Hopefully, they will grow up real quick."
In fact, a quick look at the Mountaineers' three-deep depth chart shows seniors Jorge Wright at end, Terence Garvin at Star linebacker and Pat Miller at boundary cornerback while freshman Karl Joseph will get his first collegiate start against the Thundering Herd and standout receiver Aaron Dobson.
A deeper look shows that 10 true or redshirt freshmen while only six seniors are listed among the top 33 defensive players on the team.
"Guys that haven't played, whether they are redshirt or true freshmen, are guys that haven't played," continued the coach. "It will take game time for us to see which guys step up when things get tough."
Making matters worse for the second year coach is the need to replace team leaders Bruce Irvin, Najee Goode and Keith Tandy.
"Bruce (Irvin) was able to cause a lot of problems for quarterbacks last year, but we are really going to miss guys like Najee (Goode) and Keith (Tandy) because of the leadership they provided us."
The prevent unit's task on Saturday is to slow down a Marshall offense that returns starting quarterback Rakeem Cato, its two top running backs Tron Martinez (out for injury) and Travon Van as well as Dobson, who is projected as an early round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
"He (Dobson) is a physical guy that can block and make catches that are pretty spectacular," said the coach. "He's obviously a guy that caught our eye and he is one of the bigger focus points in order of what we need to do to win the game.
"Going back and looking, he (Cato) experienced some growing pains, which all freshmen do, especially at the quarterback position. But, he has shown some pretty good signs of being a special kind of quarterback. He won a lot of games in high school. We'll have to contain him, there's no doubt."
Looking to accomplish that feat in WVU's new 3-4/4-3 alignment will be juniors Will Clarke (DT) and Shaq Rowell (NT), who will join Wright up front, juniors Tyler Anderson (Buck) and Doug Rigg (Sam), and sophomore Jared Barber (Will) and Garvin at the linebacker slots and juniors Brodrick Jenkins (FCB) and Darwin Cook (BS), Miller and Joseph in the secondary.
"We got a lot of new faces even though we return seven starters from last year's defense. What I want to see is which one of them will step up when the going gets tough and become the leaders that we are going to have to have on defense."
And, there is nothing like opening against a team like Marshall to find the answer to that question.
"I know watching all of Marshall's games last year, which I watched all of them over the course of last week, they played considerably harder against West Virginia than they did any other team out there. We're obviously expecting to get their best. They've got a good bit of people coming back.
"They had a lot of young kids last year. The biggest thing is for our guys to understand we're going to get their absolute best and we have to play good in order to win."