While doubt may be intensified, or calmed, by West Virginia’s defensive performance against Marshall Saturday, the offense will take center stage.
Cook says practicing against WVU's potent offense has the defense ready.
The annual Friends of Coal Bowl kicks off a Noon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Geno Smith (346 of 526 for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns, seven interceptions), the offense that put 70 points, and a boatload of BCS and Orange Bowl records on Clemson, returns a plethora of talent.
Included in that are two of the nation’s premier receivers, the underrated Stedman Bailey (72-1,279-12)and one of the nation’s top playmakers in Tavon Austin (101-1,186-8) the Mountaineers are primed for a big inaugural Big XII season.
“We are all excited – it is the first game,” Smith said. “We know that all of their guys are going to come in here with a lot of enthusiasm. They are going to be ready to play. We want to match their intensity. We are not going to take anything lightly, and we are going to take it one step at a time. We are going to come out ready to play.”
The offensive line returns three players who have combined for 88 career starts in center Joe Madsen (38) and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins. Jenkins started in 2009 and 2010 but missed last season as a medical redshirt.
And Shawne Alston, who missed a bulk of the first half of the season, will start in the backfield after scoring a team-high 12 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Last year’s starter, Dustin Garrison, is listed as questionable because of a knee injury suffered in pre-Orange Bowl practices.
Alston had 416 yards on 97 carries last season.
“I am very excited, because this is the first time I am starting a game at the beginning of the season,” Alston said. “I just want to go out there and do a great job. I want to bring energy, but at the same time, I have to go out there and make some plays.”
How West Virginia handles Marshall’s offense, which returns quarterback Rakeem Cato and big-play receiver Aaron Dobson, will be a hot topic.
The Mountaineers underwent a transition from the 3-3-5 Stack to the more traditional 3-4 alignment at the beginning of spring after the arrival of co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson.
At least one Mountaineer defender, Darwin Cook, believes the defense will arise to the challenge. Even if it takes that defense a few games to get to that comfort zone.
“We are going head to head against (the WVU offense) every day in practice and making each other better,” Cook said. “They may be ahead of us a little bit right now. We are just going to keep getting better and better each day. We are not in midseason form yet obviously. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can be.”
West Virginia is off next Saturday before returning to action Sept. 15 in Washington, D.C. against James Madison.