As the Mountaineer football team prepares to face the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl today, I was able reflect on the WVU football season with former WVU quarterback Rasheed Marshall. WVU earned this bowl bid by going 10-2 during the regular season, and tying for 2nd place in the BIG 12.
Throughout the entirety of the season, there was one constant theme with this team. The team felt doubted and disrespected from Day 1, and there is still a sense of uncertainty from people outside of the program. However, that means nothing to this Mountaineer squad.
Coach Dana Holgorsen has preached all season that the team chemistry is fantastic, and it has played a huge part in the success WVU has seen on the field. Rasheed Marshall agrees, believing the unity within the program has been a direct cause of the Mountaineers’ great season.
“Coming into the season, a lot of people didn’t give them a lot of respect. They weren’t chosen to be one of the top teams in the BIG 12. With all of that, these guys came out and did some unbelievable things by believing in each other,” Marshall said.
As many WVU fans know, even when WVU was winning games, the national respect was still not there. Despite winning 10 games in a Power 5 conference, WVU was disrespected and constantly placed below teams with one or two more losses.
Marshall believes that the Mountaineers were never fully respected on a national level, and the loss to Oklahoma played a major factor in that.
“Even now they’ve started to turn heads, but with that Oklahoma blemish, I feel like some people are looking at it as ‘WVU is who we thought they were.'”
The team has found success in the form of a few surprises this year, with many of WVU’s main contributors not playing large roles during the 2015 season.
The team’s leading rusher, Justin Crawford, was playing in Junior College at this point last season. He replaced the BIG 12’s leading rusher last season, current member of the Philadelphia Eagles, Wendell Smallwood.
On the defensive side, 1st-team BIG 12 Cornerback Rasul Douglas was overshadowed by the likes of Karl Joseph, Darryl Worley and Nick Kwiatkoski, all of which are starting in the NFL as rookies.
With all of the talent the Mountaineers lost last season to the NFL, fresh faces had to step up if WVU was going to have success this season. “These guys believed in each other, and some guys stepped up and filled roles that they were necessarily expected to fill. As a team, those guys had the chemistry to make it all happen” Marshall said.
With all of the new players that had great seasons, there was still one familiar face that stood out most to Marshall.
“Playing the position of quarterback, naturally it’s what I am going to look at first. I wanted to see how Skylar Howard took the step from year 1 to year 2 as a starting quarterback, and he really stepped up. I can’t say I’m surprised, because he is a hard worker and he goes about his business. He had great focus, leadership and command of the offense. He had all of the characteristics of a senior quarterback.”
With 10 wins on the season, some of them came easily while others were harder to get. To Marshall, one win stood out above the others.
Traveling to Lubbock, Texas, WVU faced off against the nation’s No. 1 offense. The defense responded to the task, holding the Red Raiders to a season-low 17 points. Marshall believes this was the biggest win of the season for the Mountaineers.
“I think Texas Tech was the selling point. Given the fact that West Virginia had struggled with them on the road.”
It reminded him of a matchup he was a part of during his Mountaineer career, the annual game with Maryland. “It was always like a measuring stick, and I think this year Texas Tech served as that game.”
With the regular season in the past, WVU has only one focus now: beating former Big East rival Miami. It is a task that will keep WVU busy, and will be a showcase of two great offenses.
Miami is historically one of the most athletic teams in college football, always loaded with speed at the skill positions. “Miami is Miami. They are always going to have speed offensively and defensively” Marshall said of the Hurricanes.
Despite the 8-4 record, Marshall believes it is going to be a great challenge for WVU. “Brad Kaaya is a great quarterback. I think it will be a good matchup and a good test for WVU. Athlete for athlete, I think it is going to be a good game.”
While there is going to be a lot of X’s and O’s involved in the outcome of the game, Marshall believes the team that is more focused will have an advantage. With his experience in bowl games, Marshall knows it is sometimes easy to lack focus in the bowl game.
“The thing I know that is important is the focus. They haven’t played in a football game in three weeks or so, how will they respond? Which team can do that the fastest? You can put a completely different team out there on the field from where they are mentally compared to three weeks ago.”
With all of the extracurricular activities surrounding the bowl game, it can be easy for the players to lose sight of the main goal: winning the game.
“You just have to be focused and ignore the bowl hype and remember the main reason that you are there, and that is to play a football game.”
With the football season coming to an end, it was great to get inside the brain of a WVUPro, and great representative of the WVU football program.