MORGANTOWN-It was understood that the hiring of former-Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to take over the offensive reigns at West Virginia University would have an impact.
Few, however, believed that the numbers would be as staggering as a 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
For the first time in the program's history the offense produced not one, but two 1,000 yard receivers in Stedman Bailey (1,279) and Tavon Austin (1,186). Prior to last season the only receivers to eclipse that number were David Saunders (1,043) in 1996 and Chris Henry (1,006) in 2003.
Looking to slow down that attack when the two teams meet for the final time in the Friends of Coal Bowl will be Marshall University and a defensive secondary that returns starters Darryl Roberts at cornerback and Devin Arrington at strong safety, but will be minus free safety Omar Brown-the team's leader with 113 tackles and four interceptions.
Making matters worse will be the loss of cornerback Rashad Jackson, who tied Brown for the team lead in interceptions with four.
To help alleviate the problem, Holliday and his staff have reached out and received the services of former-Penn State cornerback Derrick Thomas as well as former-Boston College starters Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha.
Those additions are bound to help the Herd's prevent unit, but can not replace the one big hole that occurred when Vinny Curry, the team's leader with 11 sacks, left for the NFL.
And, if Marshall is unable to pressure WVU senior quarterback Geno Smith, then that makes Bailey and Austin even more difficult to contain. Even with Curry the Herd surrendered 249 yards through the air as Smith connected on 26-of-35 attempts during the weather-shortened contest. Bailey was the biggest recipient with five catches for 76 yards-one going for a 15-yard touchdown-while Austin latched onto three passes for 32 yards.
If that were not enough to keep Marshall's defensive coaching staff awake at night, Smith will also have seniors J.D. Woods and Ryan Nehlen and junior Ivan McCartney returning as well as a quartet of newcomers-Jordan Thompson, Dante Campbell, K.J. Myers and Cody Clay-that are expected to make an impact on the Mountaineers' passing attack.
"'They (the freshmen) come in and they work hard, and they listen for the most part, they are doing what the coaches ask of them to do," said Austin. "One thing that I ask from them right now probably that they need to pick up their blocking a little bit."
Should they accomplish that goal then Mountaineer fans can expect to see a stronger running attack than the one that managed only 42 yards on 26 attempts in the 21-point win over Marshall a year ago.
"Just getting used to the system, and getting used to the practice and No. 1, just making plays," continued Austin. "That is what coach Holgorsen's offense is all about, making plays. You make plays, and you just do your part, and you will be okay in this offense."