Morgantown, WV – The 19th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 0 on the young season as they host Norfolk State Spartans, an FCS opponent.
Opening weekend of the 2011 season was a successful one for Norfolk State, which got past Virginia State with ease by a 37-3 final. Competing in the MEAC, the Spartans finished 6-5 overall last season and return 13 starters, including eight on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Pete Adrian is 34-33 in six seasons at the helm.
A severe storm shortened the season opener between West Virginia and Marshall last Sunday, but the Mountaineers did earn a 34-13 victory in Dana Holgorsen's head coaching debut. Holgorsen, the selected "coach in waiting", was elevated to head coach a year early following the resignation of Bill Stewart in June. Mountaineer Field was twice evacuated due to lightning in the area, and there was 14:36 remaining in regulation when officials finally ended things nearly seven hours after kickoff.
"I'm proud of the kids as far as how they handled the situation," said Holgorsen. "I'm glad it turned out the way it did....It would have been hard for those kids to go back out there after eight hours. I think common sense takes place at some point."
The favorite to win the Big East Conference this season, WVU is now 11-0 all- time versus Marshall.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between West Virginia and Norfolk State on the gridiron.
Norfolk State has already begun life after DeAngelo Branche, last year's MEAC rushing champion. Without Branche in the fold this season, the Spartans figure to lean more heavily on quarterback Chris Walley.
Against Virginia State last weekend, Norfolk State racked up 438 total yards, an impressive performance by most any standards. It is hard to imagine Walley being any more efficient than he was, as he completed 25-of-29 passes for 255 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The versatile performer added 42 rushing yards as well.
Takeem Hedgeman ran for 65 yards on 12 carries to pace the Spartans, and Reggie Garrett paced the receivers with seven catches for 74 yards. Norfolk State didn't commit a single giveaway or allow a sack, but the West Virginia defense will clearly provide a much tougher challenge this weekend.
Defensively, the Spartans shined against Virginia State, permitting a mere 161 total yards on 51 plays. Norfolk State yielded just 30 rushing yards on 20 attempts and allowed a modest 7.7 yards per pass completion.
Switching focus to the Mountaineers, Holgorsen is considered an offensive mastermind, so WVU quarterback Geno Smith is expected to have a big year. In the shortened opener against Marshall, Smith passed for 249 yards and two scores.
"Geno does a good job of getting himself out of some situations and when defenses blitz as much as that then there is going to be pressure," Holgorsen said. "We've got to do a better job, receiver-wise and coaching-wise as far as getting Geno into situations where he can get the ball out of his hands a little bit quicker."
Marshall posted 187 total yards against West Virginia, which certainly looked solid defensively. The lone touchdown scored by the Herd came on special teams, as the defense held Marshall to a pair of field goals.
"They played well," Holgorsen said of West Virginia's defense. "They had four or five three-and-outs. It was a very solid defensive performance. I'm proud of (defensive coordinator) Jeff Casteel and those guys, and we had some guys who stepped up and played well."