Like everyone else in Big 12 country, Dana Holgorsen had no idea about the West Virginia-Marshall series or the hoopla surrounding the game when he came to Morgantown shortly after the 2010 season ended.
By June 2011, Holgorsen was named West Virginia’s head coach and less than three months later he was thrust directly into the intrastate rivalry.
“Based on last year, me being involved in it for the first year, it’s a game that means a lot to the people of West Virginia,” said the Iowa native, who had spent a bulk of his coaching career in Texas and Oklahoma, a hotbed of Big 12 football.”
Marshall travels north to Morgantown for the annual Friends of Coal Bowl Saturday at noon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“It means a lot to both teams for bragging rights in-state,” Holgorsen said. “I know, watching all of Marshall’s games from last year, they played considerable harder against West Virginia than they did against any other team out there. We’re obviously expecting to get their best.”
West Virginia is 11-0 all-time against the Thundering Herd, including 6-0 in the Friends of Coal Bowl.
Holgorsen said the Mountaineers will do anything but take the Herd lightly.
““They’ve got quite a bit of people coming back, had a lot of kids last year,” Holgorsen said. “The biggest thing is for our guys to understand that we’re going to get their absolute best and we’re going to have play good in order to win.”
Marshall has a couple of outstanding playmakers in 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior wide receiver Aaron Dobson and 6-0, 182-pound sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Dobson, a South Charleston graduate, has been Marshall’s leading receiver the last two seasons. In 2011 Dobson had 49 catches for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns. Holgorsen noted that Dobson was MVP of the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, when he had two touchdown receptions in the Herd’s win over Florida International and has a penchant for the big catch. His one-handed touchdown grab against East Carolina last season made every highlight show in the nation.
“He does a good job being a physical guy who can block and he makes some catches that are pretty spectacular,” Holgorsen said. “He’s obviously is a guy that’s caught our eye and he is going to be one of the bigger focus points of what we need to do to win the game.”
In last year’s game in Morgantown Dobson had six catches for 22 yards.
Cato, who made his first career start against West Virginia in the Mountaineers 34-13 lightning-shortened game, was 15 of 21 passing for 115 yards.
“Going back and looking at it, he experienced some growing pains which all freshmen do, especially at the quarterback position,” Holgorsen said. “Question number on is what offense are they going to run? There has been some speculation on that. So hopefully he is learning a second offense in as many years.
“He did show some pretty good signs of being a special kind of quarterback. We’ll have to contain him, no doubt.”
Last season Cato was 182 of 304 passing for 2,059 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Saturday’s game will be the final installment of the series, which has not been renewed and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t get too far into the future schedules and all that,” Holgorsen said. “I know there are challenges. You only have three nonconference games you can play and there are all kinds of geographical reasons to play not only this game but guys from surrounding states, Pitt and Maryland and Ohio and into (New) Jersey. That’s why we have great administrators that lead us in the direction that we need to go.”