NOTE: This is the 24th and final in a series of previews on Marshall and West Virginia football opponents.
Checking them out
If you're talking about a team that gave up 52 points in regulation in its last regular-season game and then sacked the defensive coordinator, you're not just talking about Marshall.
The East Carolina defense played its role in that eventual 65-59 shootout, even if it forced the winning turnover in the second overtime. After giving up 43 points in a bowl loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Brian Mitchell was gone. (Yes, he landed on his feet at West Virginia, where he coaches corners.)
ECU's offense is so similar to that of Marshall, it's scary. Shane Carden (3,116 passing yards, 23 TDs) has caught on at quarterback and has a number of veteran weapons around him, and the Pirates are going to more of a "NASCAR" attack. The wild card is the improvement in the defense - like Marshall, the only way that can go is up.
The Carden-to-Justin Hardy (1,105 yards, 11 TDs) combination can make any defensive coordinator look bad. Other targets include Danny Webster (34-332, five TDs) and 6-foot-8, 277-pound Justin Joes (25-346, three TDs). Vintavious Cooper (1,049 rushing yards, seven TDs) remains indefinitely suspended but is expected to return and regain his starting job at running back.
The ECU line gave up 29 sacks, but that's out of 517 pass plays (488 attempts plus sacks). With four offensive line starters back, expect that number to decline.
New defensive coordinator Rick Smith greets eight returning starters, and he will try to turn that into a positive. He is switching from the 3-4 to a multiple scheme, which should be picked up by veterans such as free safety Damon Magazu (80 tackles) and linebackers Jeremy Grove (83 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and Derrell Johnson (11 TFLs, seven sacks).
Special teams will pose problems for most opponents, with kicker Warren Harvey and punter Trent Tignor proven commodities. Hardy is just as dangerous a punt returner as he is at receiver.