West Virginia leery of motivated Marshall

Dana Holgorsen spent the last week brushing up on some Marshall football.

His Mountaineers face their in-state rivals on Saturday at noon, and Holgorsen watched every game the Thundering Herd played in 2011.

One observation was clear.

"They played considerably harder against West Virginia than they did against any other team out there," Holgorsen said.

West Virginia's not exactly a big pond, but there's no question about it: The Mountaineers are by far the state's biggest fish.

Saturday, little fish Marshall gets its chance to earn state bragging rights for the next year. Holgorsen's got no plans on being the first coach in West Virginia history to lose to Marshall in 11 meetings between the schools.

"We’re obviously expecting to get their best," he 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 to play well to win."

The rivalry's been one-sided for its entirety, but the 12th meeting (and perhaps the last in the near future after meeting in the Friends of Coal Bowl for the past seven seasons) between the rivals could be memorable if the Mountaineers struggle. In 2010, the Mountaineers rallied from a 21-6 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime, where they won, 24-21.

Holgorsen compared the rivalry to Tulsa and Oklahoma State -- another Big 12-Conference USA matchup -- but the quality of competition could be scary for the Mountaineers.

"Conference USA vs. Big 12, there’s been several games over the last 10 years that have been competitive," he said.

Holgorsen would know.

After beating Georgia in its 2009 season opener, Oklahoma State landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ascended to No. 5 in the polls.

Holgorsen, then the offensive coordinator at Houston, walked into Stillwater and knocked off the No. 5 Cowboys and followed it up with a win over Texas Tech the following week.

" Just playing up a conference, they’re going to play hard," he said. "They're a quality Conference USA team that went to a bowl game and won their bowl game coming in here and will have a little bit of momentum and be ready to play."

The Thundering Herd were 7-6 a year ago and finished second in the C-USA East, beating Florida International in the Beef O'Bradys Bowl (yes, Big 12 fans, that's a real thing). Knowing this may be Marshall's last chance to beat its rivals for quite some time, Holgorsen can expect an inspired effort.

"Based on last year, me being involved in it for the first year, it’s a game that means a lot to the people in West Virginia," he said. "Means a lot for bragging rights for both teams in-state."

By Sunday, everyone in the Old Gold and Blue would love for those bragging rights to stay just where they've always been.