Thursday, November 13, 2014

COLUMN: CFP Committee Plays Press Your Luck While Avoiding the Dreaded Whammy

After seeing this week’s latest College Football Playoff rankings, one could be left with a sense of how certain teams got in while others are on the outside looking in.

I think I have the answer.

Remember the game show Press Your Luck with host Peter Tomarken? The game where players take big risks for big bucks.

Welcome to the modern day game show where college football rankings are the prize, the committee of 12 as the players, committee chair Jeff Long as the host and any loss to a Group of 5 school will take any form of credibility from the Power 5 program.

The object of the game is to stop the flashing box on teams within the P5 conferences while avoiding the G5 teams known as the Whammy which could crumble the foundation of the football powerhouse country club.

Paints an interesting picture doesn’t it.

After seeing the latest Top 25 rankings that were released Tuesday evening, this was the picture that came to mind. Especially for teams ranked from 21-25.

For the second week in a row, teams from the G5 were left out of the latest ranking. So again, the question is which team is in the lead for that coveted “Golden Ticket” which provides the highest ranked G5 team a spot in a New Year’s Eve College Access Bowl against an At-Large Power 5 team.
This is the agony for teams such as Marshall (9-0), Colorado State (9-1) and Boise State (7-2) as they are left in the dark wondering what waits in the future for their programs while every week must play at near perfection for any hope of cracking into the rankings.

Unfortunately, the committee slammed the stopper safely to avoid that dreaded “Whammy” from stealing away all the goods.

I cannot get past the image of hearing the members of the committee saying “Power 5, Power 5 and No G5, I mean Whammies…STOP!”, followed by Jeff Long saying stop on SEC Texas A&M and it will be our No. 24 team in the ranking. This process is once again followed with the flashing box stopping on Minnesota at No. 25.

Comical huh? So are the latest rankings.

Fresh off a 41-38 upset over No. 3 Auburn, the committee felt compelled to include the Aggies even though had 3 losses in the SEC and a narrow 21-16 win over University Louisiana-Monroe. Let’s not forget about Minnesota that darkened the doorstep at No. 25 after a 51-14 win over Iowa.

Certainly seems that something was forgotten by the committee, the Gophers two losses to TCU and a 4-5 Illinois two weeks ago. What happened to the entire body of work?

At this point I don’t think the committee cares about the body of work as long. Just as long as no one stops on a Whammy, everyone at the country club will be uber happy while enjoying the view from inside.

Unfortunately for the G5 schools, the committee knows the pattern of the flashing box. Although the Whammy was entertaining on the television show as it danced across the screen while taking all the players money, there will be no dancing Whammies anytime soon by the G5, only Jeff Long saying stop on another P5 school that joins this week’s ranking.

Friday, November 7, 2014

COLUMN: Winning is Easy as 1,2...

Ask any coach in the nation if he/she would rather have a win or a take a loss over a quality opponent. I would imagine the results would be a landslide of a response; take the win. Now ask the same question to the College Football Playoff committee and the response may shock you. Suddenly, a quality loss seems to hold more stature in the eyes of the 12 member committee rather than a win.

Welcome to the confusion that is the College Football Playoffs where strength of schedule is important and winning is not everything. Just ask 8-0 Marshall football—who happens to be one of three undefeated teams in the nation—as the Thundering Herd finds itself ranked No. 23 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll, No. 22 in the Amway Coaches Poll but remains unranked in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

Even the College Football Playoff Committee Chair Jeff Long appeared to have lost count on the number of undefeated teams in the nation when he addressed the media after the latest rankings were revealed.

“Certainly we talked about undefeated teams and as you know there are two,” Long said when asked of the value of being undefeated. However, Long found himself having to make an adjustment as he continued his remarks.

“Again we started back at the beginning, well there are three undefeated teams,” quickly corrected Long before continuing his statement.

So which team did he forget about? No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 Florida State or unranked Marshall, all of which are 8-0 this season.

“At this point we stop ranking at 25 because that’s our charge,” Long said of ranking teams outside of the Top 25 until a ranking is established for the top G5 school. “So we don’t rank beyond 25.”

Numbers do not lie but I will leave the decision to you the reader to decide which of the three Long forgot.

Welcome to the Power 5 country club where the invited are welcomed and the rest may look but not touch. This is the setting teams such as Marshall, Colorado State and Boise State currently find themselves a part of with no real explanation of where they stand against the nation, or one another, in sight anytime soon.

Still not convinced of the parity between the P5 and G5 schools? A simple break down of the new No. 24 team in the rankings Georgia Tech will surely clear this up. As a member of the powerful ACC, GT has played Wofford (Southern), Tulane (AAC) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt) during its non-conference schedule. As a whole, the three teams are a combined 14-11 and none are a member 
of a P5 school. However, GT plays four non-conference games this season.

Who is the fourth? No. 20 Georgia (SEC).

“As I said last week, our meeting this week would begin with a clean sheet of paper and it did,” Long said of the latest rankings meeting.

Perhaps not completely clean as a 7-2 Georgia Tech appears to be receiving some credibility for the Georgia game that has yet to play. After all, Tech lost in back-to-back weeks to No. 22 Duke (7-1) and North Carolina (4-5). Georgia Tech’s overall conference schedule is 29-24 with four of its five opponents having losing records.

Did I mention that Georgia Tech received only 15 points in the AP Poll (29th) and 32 in the Coaches Poll (28th)? Marshall received 238 in the AP and 253 in the Coaches Poll while Colorado State earned 67 and 81 respectively.

But no worries, Georgia Tech is looked at as a member of the “country club” so of course a 7-2 ACC team looks much better than an 8-0 Marshall from CUSA or 8-1 Colorado State from Mountain West.
However, compare Georgia Tech’s non-conference strength of schedule thus far to that of Marshall and Colorado State and the numbers say different.

Tech’s non-conference average according to the Sagarin Ratings is a staggering 128.7 through three games. Marshall, who supposedly had a laugher of non-conference schedule, is 120 through its four non-conference games while Colorado State is a 73 although three of its four non-conference opponents have collectively won 4 games.

A message the G5 schools can take from this, stay off the lawn and do not get finger prints on the glass while looking in at “Big Boy” football.

So for future reference, do not schedule games that are inviting to your fan base or teams that perhaps were relevant when those schedules were created four or more years ago. Instead, schedule every non-conference game with teams that will provide a quality loss therefore beefing up the strength of schedule.

After all, winning is so easy in today’s game that college football has more undefeated teams than one can account for.

Just ask Jeff Long. It’s as easy as 1, 2...oh I forgot what comes next.

Friday, September 26, 2014

COLUMN: Marshall Football's Strength of Schedule Flew South for a Win

Marshall football is 4-0 for the first time since 1999 after running through its competition in non-conference play. However, Marshall still has yet to receive much credit for many of the team’s accomplishments through the first third of the season.

Marshall is the only team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games. Only Oregon was able to challenge Marshall in this category but fell two points shy in its 38-31 win over Washington State Saturday night.

The Herd is ranked sixth nationally and leads the Group of Five schools with a 29.3-point scoring margin.

Marshall’s defense has yet to surrender a touchdown in the first half this season while outscoring its opponents 103-6.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But none of this really matters because the Herd’s strength of schedule is the fourth weakest of the 128 FBS schools according to Phil Steele’s 2014 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings.

At least this is how many of the “experts” view the Herd.

The concept I do not understand is that Marshall is nationally ranked in many categories—something many said was a must for the Herd to overcome its weak schedule—but has yet to earn the respect it deserves.

After all, Marshall handpicked this weak schedule right?

Not so fast. Actually the Herd should not be in a bye week but rather finalizing game preparation for its upcoming opponent at Joan C. Edwards Stadium this Saturday. In case you have forgotten who the opponent was, allow me to refresh your memory.

It was the Louisville Cardinals. The 3-1 Louisville Cardinals of the ACC, which is a member of the “Power Five” conferences.

After Louisville bolted from the AAC to join the ACC, the Cardinals had to shuffle its schedule to accommodate its new conference opponents. Plus they picked up a game with Notre Dame in South Bend at the end of the season.

So who gets left standing on the outside looking in? Certainly not a Power Five conference team? And who would tell Norte Dame no? Louisville certainly would not turn down a trip to South Bend to come to Huntington.

Therefore, it’s the Herd left out of the conversation in a season that a game versus a Power Five team could have majorly helped Marshall’s strength of schedule.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But for all the naysayers that disagree, I give you the numbers.

Louisville’s preseason strength of schedule was 68th while FIU’s was 90th and before you ask why is FIU relevant to this conversation I will explain. FIU played host to Louisville in Miami last week in a game that the Cardinals won 34-3. FIU also lost to Pitt 42-25 earlier this season.

So how does a FIU team that played FCS opponents in back-to-back weeks—one of which it lost to in Bethune-Cookman 14-12—have a strength of schedule that is 36 spots tougher than Marshall’s? FIU and Marshall play six common opponents during conference play with their non-commons not majorly swaying the final number. Scrambling to find a home game to replace the Louisville void, Marshall added FCS Rhode Island to eliminate having to play seven roads games rather than six.

With some simple addition, I have Marshall playing a non-conference schedule comprised of three FBS teams and one FCS team compared to FIU’s two and two respectively.

Maybe I am missing something but a game with Power Five team sure seems that it would have pushed the Herd forward several spots in the preseason poll not to mention how much a win over Louisville could have helped Marshall’s position in the national polls.

So why did Louisville pull the plug with Marshall? Why not FIU? The games were separated by only a week on the schedule but there is more than one reason why Louisville did not try to ditch FIU. 
Why would Louisville go to Miami to play in a stadium that may draw a crowd of 10,000 if FIU sells dollar holler seats for the game?

Two reasons, an easy win and recruitment.

FIU was a guaranteed win for Louisville which is a must under the new football playoff system. Power 5 teams have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing a Group of 5 team, making Louisville’s decision to drop Marshall simple.

Not to mention that Marshall defeated Louisville 17-13 in 2011 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in a game that saw Rakeem Cato and Teddy Bridgewater running the offense for their teams. Cato is a Heisman Trophy candidate of one of the most prolific offenses in the nation while Bridgewater is taking snaps for the Minnesota Vikings.

Another contributing factor to keep FIU, recruitment. Of the 91 players on Louisville’s roster, 28 (15.4 percent) hail from the state of Florida, with 14 from Miami.

No one player on the Cardinals roster hail from West Virginia.

Seems like a win-win for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for Marshall, it is a victim of the system controlled by the Power Five conferences. Suddenly an invitation for Marshall men’s basketball to play at the YUM! Center in November seems like a bad parting gift after picking the wrong box on a game show.

The price certainly was not right for the Herd no matter how you slice it.

Just remember as you kick back to watch some college football this weekend, the Joan should be jumping with the roar of the crowd and chants of “We Are…Marshall” echoing throughout Huntington.

So the next time someone challenges Marshall’s weak schedule, feel free to drop them a reminder that its Power Five opponent in Louisville decided to fly south for an easy win. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Marshall vs Akron Recap 9/20/14

Akron, OH—Many college football experts predicted Marshall’s run at an undefeated season would come to an end in its visit to Akron.

Those predictions were zipped up after the Thundering Herd’s 48-17 win over the Zips at InfoCision Stadium Saturday afternoon.

"For the most part, I was pleased," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "We challenged our kids about being physical and being a complete team and being the best football team on the field today like we were a week ago and I thought we did that."

Tommy Shuler hauls in a catch. Photo by Falecia Collier.
For the first time since the 1938 season, Marshall has scored 40-plus points in each of its first four games moving to 4-0 heading into the bye week.  After Oregon failed to surpass the 40-point plateau Saturday night, Marshall was left as the lone team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games.

Marshall scored at will over the first 15 minutes of play as it rushed out to a 17-0 lead over Akron. Rakeem Cato scampered in from 11 yards for the game’s first score as the Heisman Trophy candidate orchestrated a 9-play 80-yard drive that consumed over three minutes off the clock. It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Zips this season.

Akron would have another first on the ensuing drive after Arnold Blackmon forced Hakeem Lawrence to fumble allowing Antavis Rowe to make the recovery setting up Marshall’s second drive. Justin Haig would connect on a 24-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 after another long sustained drive by the Herd.

But it was the Herd’s defense that set the tone during the opening quarter of the game. Akron’s offense failed to move the ball after Pohl threw three consecutive incomplete passes. Forced to punt, Akron sent a short punt to Marshall that was downed at midfield and the Herd would need only three plays to find pay dirt once again.

Cato hit tight end Eric Frohnapfel on a 25-yard crossing route on first down and connected with Angelo Jean-Louis two plays later for a 24-yard touchdown. Cato ran his consecutive games throwing a touchdown streak to 36 on the scoring strike and stands only two games shy of tying current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who set the record while playing at Wisconsin and N.C. State.

Devon Johnson stiff-arms the defense. Photo by Falecia Collier
Devon Johnson kicked off the second quarter for the Herd as the big man rumbled through three would-be tacklers for a 22-yard touchdown making it 24-0. Johnson said he simply followed Coach Barclay’s instructions of how to attack the defense.

“I knew I was going to have to bounce it outside because of the where the lineman was at,” said Johnson of his scoring run. “I knew if I cleared the Sam linebacker I was going to be one-on-one with the safety and that’s something Coach Barclay stresses is to win your one-on-one battles and that’s what I did.”

Akron compiled a 10-play drive that stalled out at the Marshall 7-yard line as the Zips settled for a 24-yard field goal that trimmed the Herd’s lead to 24-3.

Akron threatened to swing the momentum after Cato was picked off in the first pass of the ensuing drive but AJ Leggett would calm the surge as he picked off Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Although many say Leggett’s pick was a statement play in the game, he said he just played as he’s been coached.

“I was just trying to make a play on the ball,” Leggett said of his interception. “I saw the quarterback’s eyes and the receiver break so I just tried to make a play on the ball.”

Marshall took full advantage of the Akron turnover.

In a system nicknamed “Thunder and Lightning”—referring to Marshall’s running back stable of Johnson (Thunder) along with Remi Watson and Steward Butler (Lightning)—it was a shot of lightning from Watson that provided the longest rushing attempt since Daruis Marshall’s 80-yard game-winning touchdown run in 2009 home win over Bowling Green. The junior exploded into the Zips defense like a flash of lightning for an 80-yard touchdown run putting the Herd up 31-3.

“It’s just a feeling through the course of the game that you get in your body,” Watson said of his 80-yard touchdown run. “I was like just run, run just run and there was no way I was letting anybody chase me down.”

Watson, who turned in his first 100-yard rushing game of his career after finishing with 124 yards on only nine carries, picked up the slack from a missing Butler who was held out after a poor week of preparation.

"I didn't like the way he practiced the last week," Holliday said of Butler. "If I don't like the way he practices, he ain't going to play. We've got plenty of backs. If they practice well, they play. If they don't, they sit over by me and watch. He sat over by me and watched today."

While Akron entered the game boasting a powerful defense through its first two games, it was Marshall that dominated the first half. Although Akron held the ball for nearly 16 minutes in the first half, they were 1-of-8 on third down conversions and were held to only 197 total yards of offense.
Marshall's defense has yet to allow a first half TD.
Photo by Falecia Collier

“Coach Heater is always on us about defense winning games," Leggett said. "I feel like as long as our offense keeps putting up 40 points a game there’s no reason we should lose.”

Looking to erase a sloppy close to the first half, Marshall marched 75 yards in seven plays that ended with on a Cato 13-yard rushing touchdown—his second of the game—putting the Herd up 38-3.

“We talked at halftime about coming out taking the ball right down the field,” Holliday said. “We did that and it was good to see.”

Akron failed once again to mount any form of an offensive threat and would turn the ball over on downs to Marshall after Pohl’s fourth down conversion attempt fell short of its intended target.

With the game well at hand, Holliday turned to his youthful reserves in what would be Cato’s final offensive series of the game. Ryan Yurachek made back-to-back catches during the 13-play 6-minute and 30-second drive that finished with another Haig field goal, pushing the lead to 41-3.

Marshall running back Brandon Byrd carried the work load in the final quarter and added his contribution to the effort after breaking a 19-yard run that resulted in his first career touchdown as a member of the Herd.

With all the positive’s Marshall has produced through its first four games, there is one area Holliday said must be addressed immediately, penalties. The Herd was flagged 20 times for 188 yards tying a program record for most penalties in a contest.

“I’m anxious to see the tape,” Holliday said regarding his team being flagged 20 times. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that had 20 penalties. If we are coached that bad that’s on me and I’ve got to get that corrected.”

The Herd will have two full weeks to prepare for its first opponent in conference play as the team has its first bye week of the season. Marshall travels to Old Dominion October 4th for its first game in CUSA play. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marshall vs Ohio "Battle For the Bell" Preview

Heading into Saturday’s match-up between Marshall and Ohio at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, senior quarterback Rakeem Cato is trying to add one thing that has eluded him the past three seasons to his already impressive resume—a win over the Bobcats.

Headed into the 14th meeting of the “Battle for the Bell”, Ohio is in search of its fourth consecutive win over Marshall in a series the Herd leads 9-4.

“There's no doubt that it has been a big rivalry for a lot of years and they've won the last three,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “Our kids understand that. Ohio has been the better team the last three years, as far as playing together as a team. We have to make sure, for us to have a chance on Saturday, that we are one heck of a football team in all three phases of the game. If we can do that, then we have a shot.”

Ohio head coach Frank Solich agreed with Holliday’s take on the history and rivalry of the game.

"They've been hard fought ball games, they've been games that, early on, we weren't able to find a way to win,” explained Solich. “I think the last so many years we've been able to find a way to win the game, but they've all been tremendously competitive football games for the most part. It's a rarity to not have it be a competitive game and it doesn't seem to matter where that game is played. We've played them once in a bowl game, we've played them at their place and here at our place, and those games are generally all extremely competitive football games. I think that is also something that leads to the rivalry in terms of the players, fans, and everybody getting excited about it. That's what this game is all about.

Ohio dominated Marshall in 2011 with a 44-7 beat down in Athens in a game that Cato was picked four times.  Marshall’s defense was befuddled by Ohio’s offense led by Tyler Tettleton as the Bobcats held the ball for over 36 minutes while totally 559 yards of total offense and converting third down 8-of-16 tries. It was the worst lost to Ohio since a 48-8 drubbing in Athens during the 1968 season.

Ohio visited Huntington in 2012 and found itself trailing 14-0 after one quarter. However, Tettleton calming orchestrated another Bobcat comeback with two touchdown passes in the second quarter bookending an Ohio field goal and a 17-14 Bobcats lead at the half.

Both team’s defenses played under a “bend but don’t break” mentality in the second half waiting on the other to make a mistake.  Once again, a Herd turnover led to another Bobcat win as Jelani Woseley intercepted a fourth quarter Cato pass with 20 seconds remaining. Marshall lost 27-24.

However, 2013 was supposed to be the year the Herd finally got over the Bobcats hump but once again turnovers plagued Marshall and eventually led to a 34-31 defeat. Marshall committed four turnovers, three fumbles and a Cato interception, to zero from the Bobcats. Tettleton once again calmly marched his team up-and-down the field while converting 11-of-19 third down opportunities forcing the Herd’s defense into a repeat performance of 2011.

Although Solich is missing many of his offensive play makers, he likes what his defense has been able to do with Cato over the past three years.

"I think we've been pretty sound in what we've done against them,” Solich said. “I think this is probably their best team that we've faced and maybe in our [entire] time here, as far as this staff is concerned. So this will be maybe an even bigger challenge than what it's been. Obviously, we can't let them have the big plays and if you can force them into not getting explosive plays and having to stay on the field, and earn everything they get, then you're doing all that you can. I think our football team is capable of being that kind of a defensive football team but we've shown signs of, every now and then, giving up those explosive plays. You just can't let that happen with any kind of consistency and think you'll play well enough to win the game."

Coming into the “Battle for the Bell’s” final visit to Huntington until 2019, there is one thing that Marshall must do in order to beat Ohio, take care of the football.

Over the past three contests Marshall has committed 13 turnovers to Ohio’s three. Entering Saturday’s contest both teams have fumbled six times with Marshall recovering two to Ohio’s one. Holliday said Marshall has to take care of the ball to have a chance to beat Ohio.

“You constantly work in your individual drills,” explained Holliday. “Ohio had the same issue against Kent State. They turned the ball over four times and came back the following week and only turned it over, I believe, once against Kentucky. They got it fixed and we have to get it fixed. You will not beat a good football team if you give them the football that many times.”

While Marshall returns several players from last season, only three have ever beaten Ohio—James Rouse, Darryl Roberts and Demetrius Evans. On the other hand for Ohio, while it returns a veteran defensive staff led by linebacker Jovan Johnson, there is no Tettleton, no Beau Blankenship and no Donte Foster. This year Ohio will be led by quarterback Darius Vick, or perhaps quarterback J.D. Sprague or running back Daz Patterson. While there remains uncertainty of what to expect from the Bobcats, Holliday said at least game film exists from this season.

“The positive to that is we now have film,” Holliday said. “We have two games with a sample of both of them. Vick played the Kent State game and Sprague played the majority of the Kentucky game. So we at least have them both on film. The one thing that hasn't happened is Ohio doesn't look like they have changed their philosophy a lot with either quarterback. They both have similar skill sets. They both can run and make all of their throws. I don't think they're going to change what they do. They will try and do what each of them does best. But we at least have a sample of both of them, which is something we haven't had this season.”

Ohio’s offense has been like a science experiment gone bad. Through two games this season, the Bobcats totaled 660 yards of offense. Marshall had 724 yards last week with 432 yards coming on the ground.

Vick led the Bobcats to a 17-14 win over Kent State in week one, but was benched in the first half last week at Kentucky after all six of his passes missed the intended mark. Solich turned to Sprague who went 13-for-25 in his Bobcat debut but could not will his team to a comeback as the Bobcats fell 20-3 to UK.

Thus far for Ohio, it has only scored two touchdowns—both coming against Kent State—and is averaging 330 yards of offense.

Marshall must contain the dual-threat of Vick while trying to stop Ohio’s double-stack receiver set that has haunted the Herd over the years. Luckily the Herd saw a similar look last week against Rhode Island and cornerback Corey Tindal did a great job of taking away the quick slants, a play that Tettleton used to lull the Herd to sleep with before finding a target deep down field.

So much like Marshall’s first two games this season, it’s another week of uncertainty for the Herd.

Marshall cannot have another performance like Miami this season where the defense cannot get off the field on third down. Luckily for the Herd, the Bobcats have struggled mightily (11-of-28) on third down this season. If Marshall can force Ohio into third-and-long situations, this number could rise significantly. More importantly for the Herd, it must get off the field on third down.

As for Marshall, if it can duplicate the running attack that UK pulled off last weekend in Lexington, Ohio will have to load the box thus leaving single coverage on the Herd’s receivers. UK carried the ball 52 times, gaining 232 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Much like the Herd, UK has a dual-look rushing attack that resembles a Marshall Devon Johnson, Remi Watson and Stew Butler combination that results in a one-two punch from the backfield, but Holliday said the Herd must keep the attack simple and take what is given.

“We have to continue to take what that defense gives us, whether it be the run or the pass,” Holliday said. “We just need to continue not trying to put round pegs in square holes and execute our offense. If they give us the run, we'll run it and if they give us the opportunity to throw it, we'll throw it. We'll take what they give us, do our job, and execute our offense.”

In a contest that pits two teams that always brings out the best and worst in one another, this year the Herd must find a way to bring out the worst in the Bobcats. Marshall needs to start like it did in 2012 when it had a two touchdown lead after the first quarter but must finish of the Bobcats if given the chance.

“With these guys (Ohio), you better play a complete game and take care of the football,” said Holliday. “You better come ready to play or they'll beat you. That's just the kind of team they are.”

Should this game be decided by who wins the turnover battle, Marshall must take care of the ball to pick up its 10th win in the “Battle for the Bell.” However, should the Herd fail to take care of business early, it could be another chapter of the “Ohio beats Marshall again” book, only with a different writer than the past three seasons.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Marshall Football vs Miami Column

It’s a win. That was exactly the thought that Marshall Football head coach Doc Holliday had as his team boarded the bus to head back to Huntington after knocking off Miami 42-27 in Oxford.

Was the win pretty? Not a chance.

Will the Herd gain any style points for its 42 points scored? Not in this lifetime.

Will this game help the Herd later down the road? Very possible.

I have heard so many complaints and remarks about how Marshall should have destroyed this team but failed to do so. After all, Marshall led 28-3 at the half only to be outscored 24-14 in the second half.

But for everyone who is ready to jump ship on the Herd’s march towards perfection I offer you this. The last time Marshall won a season opener on the road was at Clemson in 1999, 13-10.

That was the same year the Herd finished 13-0, won the MAC Championship and defeated BYU 21-3 in the Motor City Bowl.

Do not take me wrong, I am not saying Miami (Ohio) is Clemson in any case, but does anyone remember what the Tigers finished that season?

Try 6-6 with the sixth loss coming to Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl.

What if Miami finishes 6-6 and makes a bowl? Then Saturday’s game has a whole new meaning.

After watching the potential the RedHawks have this season, I think it is a possibility.

Andrew Hendrix makes Miami a totally different team than that of the one that was beat down 52-14 in Huntington last season. Yes many of the skill players returned that played last year, but that was with a totally different quarterback and coaching staff.

Hendrix makes this team a competitor, and now. Add his fellow Notre Dame transfer tight end Alex Welch to the mix of receivers Rokeem Williams, David Frazier and Dawan Scott and Hendrix has some real threats to sling the ball to.

Not to mention Hendrix is dangerous with his running ability as well.

Marshall should have finished off the RedHawks when it had possession to open the third quarter. But a costly fumble by Deandre Reaves gave Miami something that it so desperately needed, hope.

If Marshall does not fumble on that drive and punches another score into the endzone, game over! The only fans left in Yager Stadium would have been those wearing green and white. But not only did the RedHawks get hope, so did the fans. Even if it was only a glimmer, there was something to fight for and Miami did just that.

But Marshall did one thing to combat the Miami surge, it never panicked. Not once did the body language of any of the Herd players show signs of trouble or concern. Instead, it was business as usual. In other words, Marshall stared not only adversity, but road adversity dead in the eye, and the Herd never blinked.

Week one is always the toughest week of the season. So many variables and intangibles play into the outcome of the opening week.

But as Holliday said, “the most improvement you’ll make in a game is from game one to game two and we’ve got to make sure we do that.”

That seemed to be the case in 1999 after Marshall had its lowest scoring game of the season in game one.

How did the Herd fare after that? It outscored its opponents 450-127 over the next 12 games. I think one could call that an improvement.

Marshall’s second game of the 1999 season should be much like the game the Herd plays this Saturday as its home opener, a beat down. Marshall rolled Liberty 63-3 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on its way to a perfect season.

The Herd should do much of the same Saturday against Rhode Island.

At this point in the season, who really cares if the win has the sex appeal the voters want to see or is ugly at best. The most important thing is winning. Half the teams that played this past weekend lost. Marshall is not in that category.

Marshall won and its hopes of an undefeated season are still alive. Priority number one earns a check.

So before one throws the season down the toilet just because the team played below expectations in week one stop and ask is there a difference in a 45-3 win compared to 42-27?

Only if Marshall should lose a game this season and entering week two, the Herd is 1-0.

Merely half the teams in college football can say that, and Marshall is in that half.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Marshall holds off Miami's Surge to Pick Up Season Opener Win in Oxford

Marshall football kicked off its 2014 season against Miami (Ohio) as the Thundering Herd held off a late charge by the RedHawks for a 42-27 win at Yager Stadium.

“There was so many unknowns there in the first quarter and we made some adjustments there in the first half and I thought we played pretty good on both sides of the ball,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “Second half we didn’t play quiet as well but I was happy with the way they responded in the fourth quarter and put that game away.”

Marshall elected to defer after winning the coin toss allowing the defense to flex its muscle for the first time this season, forcing Andrew Hendrix and his RedHawks to a three-and-out and bringing Heisman Trophy candidate Rakeem Cato to the field.

Cato marched his troops to the Miami 32-yard line but the drive would stall after center Chris Jasperse was flagged for a personal foul, turning 3rd-and-4 to 3rd-and-19 which the Herd failed to convert and was forced to punt.

Miami’s offense remained stagnant after being forced into another three-and-out but Cato found the spark he needed on his second possession.

Eric Frohnapfel hauls in a TD at Miami (Ohio).
Cato hit redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis for a 39-yard gain on first down taking the Herd from its own 46 to the Miami 15. Two plays later, Eric Frohnapfel showed there is life after Gator Hoskins as he hauled in a great diving catch on an 11-yard post route to put the Herd on top 7-0.

“It’s an opportunity we get as tight ends,” Frohnapfel said of his scoring production. “Gator (Hoskins) did that a lot last year and I’m trying to fill that role.”

Miami mounted a seven-play drive that started at the Herd’s 18 on the ensuing drive, but once again stalled as the Herd forced a turnover on downs and take over from its own 43.

Cato connected with his Miami Central receiver Tommy Shuler three times on the drive for gains of 17, 9 and finally a 3-yard touchdown putting Marshall up 14-0 after one quarter of play.

Tommy Shuler makes a leaping TD catch at Miami (Ohio).
Cato looked sharp after the first 15 minutes completing 10-of-13 passes for 124 yards and 2 TDs.
Marshall’s defense made another big stop to start the second quarter after Jarquez Samuel met Hendrix at the line of scrimmage forcing back-to-back turnover on downs for the RedHawks.

The Herd’s offense took the spark from the first quarter defensive performance and scored on its third consecutive possession after Devon Johnson busted a 55-yard run off left guard that came up one yard short of six more points. Cato hooked up with Frohnapfel on the next play for a 1-yard touchdown pass as the Herd stormed out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Trailing by 21 and having little help from the back field, Hendrix not only found an offensive rhythm, but much needed confidence as he led a 13-play 62-yard drive—the longest Miami drive of the game— to put his team on the board. Miami converted two third downs and a 4th-and-1 on the drive while receiving a 15-yard gift from Herd nickel back Antavis Rowe after being flagged for a personal foul. Hendrix had three chances from the Herd’s 5-yard line but threw three consecutive incomplete passes forcing the RedHawks to settle for a field goal to cut the Herd’s lead to 21-3.

Marshall’s next position looked sloppy at best as Cato was sacked on first and second down. After Cato’s 9-yard gain to Demetrius Evans failed to move the chains, the Herd was forced to punt. But the Herd lost more than a failed conversion on the play as starting left tackle Sebastian Johansson was injured forcing freshman A.J. Addison to step in and fill the void.

Cato rallied the troops with the assistance of a spectacular 37-yard circus-like catch from Davonte Allen that set up first-and-goal from the two. Johnson finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run extending the lead to 28-3.

Hendrix calmly led his team 74 yards to the Herd 1-yard line before being stood up at the goal line by A.J. Leggett and Jermaine Holmes, saving a touchdown. Miami had one final shot to cash in for six but came up empty after Darryl Roberts deflected a Hendrix pass intended for David Frazier as time expired in the half.

Although Marshall added 14 more points in the second quarter, it held the ball for less than five minutes, forcing the defense to battle through hot and muggy conditions with field temperatures in the upper 90’s for nearly 20 of the first 30 minutes of play.

Deandre Reaves opened the second half with a 29-yard kickoff return as the Herd looked to continue its stellar offensive production from the first half. Marshall appeared to be moving the ball at will after Cato connected with Reaves on back-to-back passes of 8 and 15 yards respectfully. After making a grab that pushed the Herd into RedHawks territory, Reaves lost the handle on the ball and Miami came away with the recovery near midfield.

Hendrix patiently chipped away at the Herd’s defense as the patience paid off with a 28-yard strike to Frazier that set up first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Two plays later, Hendrix hit is former Norte Dame tight end Alex Welch for the RedHawks first touchdown of the game from 2 yards out trimming the lead to 28-10.

Throughout the third quarter everything seemingly fell into place for the RedHawks as they outscored Marshall 17-0 while holding the ball for 10:30 in the quarter.

Marshall’s offense looked stagnate after picking up only two first downs and turned the ball over on downs at the Miami 35-yard line as a Cato’s intended pass to Shuler missed its mark forcing the exhausted Herd defense back to the field.

On the final play of the quarter, ‘Rockhead’ Johnson showed he was going to lead his team to a win as the 243-pound back delivered a punishing 16-yard gain on first down that carried his team into RedHawks territory to start the final stanza.

Cato continued to feed Johnson the ball as the Herd tried to slow the pace of the game allowing the defense a much needed rest.

With the ball at the Miami 22-yard line, Holliday once again left the offense on the field rather than settling for a field goal attempt, and much like the first attempt to convert on fourth down, the Herd came up short as Johnson was stuffed at the line for no gain.

Marshall’s defense stepped up big trying to regain the momentum it had apparently lost after the intermission by forcing Miami to a three-and-out the netted minus 17 yards.

Remi Watson joined Cato in the backfield as the Herd started its drive in Miami’s half of the field. Watson tallied 13 yards on four carries in the drive, but it was Johnson who may have had the biggest play of the game.

Devon Johnson rushes against Miami (Ohio).
Facing yet another fourth down and short, the offense stayed on the field as a rested Johnson would replace Watson in the backfield. Johnson found a whole off Jasperse’s right hip and was determined to run over anyone who stepped in his path. The once tight end converted tailback broke two would-be tacklers to bust into the endzone for a 27-yard touchdown and the Herd’s first points since 8:03 remained in the second quarter.

“The game was getting close and we needed a spark and I wanted to be that spark to make sure that we got that win,” Johnson said.

Holliday said Johnson’s score swung the momentum back to the Herd.

“It was huge. It gave us the momentum back to put us back up by 15.”

Miami responded with yet another sustained drive which ended in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Hendrix to Rokeem Williams to pull the RedHawks back to within a single possession.

As the RedHawks refused to surrender to the Herd, it was Cato that came through when his team needed him the most.

With nearly five minutes remaining in the game, Marshall faced a third-and-7 from its own 38-yard line. As Cato started to step up into the pocket, it quickly closed, forcing Cato to scramble. Cato’s eyes remained downfield during the scramble allowing him to see Frohnapfel break free over the middle. Cato delivered a frozen-rope to Frohnapfel that was met by heavy contact by the Miami secondary, but the 6-foot 7-inch tight end never flinched as he confidently pulled in the catch for a 29-yard gain to move the chains.

“Those two plays are plays that Gator caught a lot of touchdowns on,” said Frohnapfel on his two-touchdown performance. “Hopefully I can continue to fill that role.”

His quarterback certainly likes the abilities Frohnapfel has to offer.

“He made some huge plays,” Cato said. “Not only with his catches but his blocks to set up a big run plays.

Holliday agrees with his senior tight ends thinking.

“He (Frohnapfel) made a tremendous catch on the first one, actually both of them,” Holliday said. 
“He’s a guy we fell can make plays in the redzone.”

Marshall continued the march towards the goal line on the back of Johnson’s rushing performance. Working from Miami’s 15-yard line, Johnson busted a 12-yard run that up-ended Miami safety Jay Mastin, throwing him through the air like a rag doll.

Cato finished off the Herd’s best drive of the game with a 2-yard diving scamper that broke the goal line giving the Herd a 42-27 lead. Marshall used 11 plays, going 65 yards over 4:24 to push the game out of reach for Miami.

“Everybody kept their composure,” said Cato on the Herd’s second half adversity. “We knew we were going to have adversity and I think we responded great to that adversity. As long as we keep improving every day we will keep getting better and better.”

However, Miami had 2:01 and one timeout remaining but the well-rested Herd defense stole the show at the end.

Miami managed seven plays over its final 1:22 of possession, but managed to gain only 1-yard. 

Darryl Roberts makes a tackle on Miami's Dawan Scott.
While appearing calm through much of the second half, Hendrix was rushed nearly every snap as D.J. Hunter and Gary Thompson lived in the backfield. Hendrix managed to get a pass away to Frazier for an 8-yard gain, but Herd defensive end Arnold Blackmon finished the RedHawks off with back-to-back sacks of Hendrix including the final sack coming on fourth-and-7.

Statistically, Miami bettered the Marshall in many categories including total plays (85-68), passing yards (318-261) and more importantly, time of possession (34:46-25:14).

“I’m glad that we had a little adversity here, we needed that,” said Holliday. “Bottom line is that we walk out with a win and that’s all that matters.”

Cato offered his thoughts on how he felt the Herd would be graded and the Heisman hopeful did not offer the best of marks for his team.

“I’d give it a B-,” said Cato. “I thought we did some pretty good things but we also had some mistakes.”

Cato finished 20-32 for 261 yards and 3 TD’s and a rushing touchdown. Johnson’s first game as a running back proved to be a memorable one as he finished with 151 yards on 19 carries and 2 TD’s. Johnson‘s net yardage was 1-yard more than Miami’s entire rushing yards gained (150) as a team on 17 fewer carries.

Frohnapfel led the team in receiving going 5-54 and 2 TD’s. Shuler went 4-40 and a TD but went without a catch in the second half.

Hendrix finished 24-49 for 318 yards with 3 TD’s and one interception. Frazier led all receivers with six catches totaling 109 yards including a 47-yard catch.

“The most improvement you’ll make in a game is from game one to game two and we’ve got to make sure we do that,” Holliday added.

The Herd gets that chance when it returns to Huntington Saturday for its home opener against Rhode Island at 7 p.m.

Marshall Football Devon Johnson Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Rockhead speaks to the media after his 150 rushing yards led the Herd to a 42-27 win over Miami.

Devon Johnson Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Marshall Football Linebacker DJ Hunter Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Hunter speaks about his team's season opener win over Miami 42-27.

DJ Hunter Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Marshall Football Quarterback Rakeem Cato Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Cato talks to the media after his team picked up a 42-27 season opening win over Miami.

Rakeem Cato Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Marshall Football Tight End Eric Frohnapfel Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Eric Frohnapfel speaks to the media after his team knocked off Miami 42-27 in the season opener.

Eric Frohnapfel Post Game Interview Miami 8-30

Marshall Football Head Coach Doc Holliday Postgame Presser vs Miami (Ohio)

Coach Holliday speaks to the media after his team's 42-27 win over Miami.
Coach Holliday with his team at Miami

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Shuler Eager For Senior Season With The Herd

Ask any Marshall football fan to name one of the best receivers ever to play for the Herd and senior Tommy Shuler’s name is sure to make the list.
Tommy Shuler makes a diving catch at Miami (Ohio).

“He (Shuler) has that ‘it’ factor that you talk about all the time with a guy,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “He finds a way to make plays.”

After back-to-back 100 catch seasons, the Miami Central native has a chance to do something no one has ever done in Division I football, go back-to-back-to-back.

“If he has a great year, he could finish up as the first receiver in the history of college football to have three back-to-back-to-back 100-catch seasons,” Holliday said. “He’s matured, he’s come along and he’s a tremendous, tremendous player.

In fact, Shuler is the only receiver of the 128 FBS teams that is eligible to achieve such a feat.

Shuler hauled in 110 catches in 2012 as the crafty sophomore slot receiver took advantage of the additional coverage that Herd outside receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson drew. After all, both were NFL caliber receivers and Dobson now plays for the New England Patriots.

In 2013 defenses focused solely on Shuler as Dobson and Wilson moved on to the next chapters in their lives. While Shuler did not produce any 19 catch, 200-yard games like his 2012 performance at Purdue, he finished with 106 grabs and 10 touchdowns while fighting through double coverage nearly every contest.

Shuler own's back-to-back 100 catch seasons.
Shuler said he never dreamed of having such success while at Marshall.

“Never,” Shuler said humbly. “After my freshman year I was like wow. Then my sophomore year I caught 110 (passes) and then caught another 100 last year. Every day I replay catches in my head and I just think how did I catch so many balls? I just pray and thank God every step of the way.”

As Shuler enters his senior season, he reflected on his time spent in Huntington while choking back the emotions from the memories.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Shuler said. “I was in the team room and Coach Furrey was like, you got 4 months. I told him, don’t say that again please. You are about to make me cry. I just hope this season lasts as long as it can last because I’m not ready to leave yet.”

Marshall finds itself in the national spotlight this season after turning in a 10-4 record and a win in the Military Bowl last year. It also has its first Heisman Trophy candidate since Byron Leftwich in 2002—Rakeem Cato—who happens to be Shuler’s best friend.

“Cato is a great quarterback and person,” said Shuler.” He’s my best friend and we are just trying to do what we can do and help Marshall football win.”

Shuler and Cato have been a duo long before they arrived in Huntington after playing youth football together before become a dynamic combo at Miami Central High School.

However, the Miami Central connection was nearly broken when Cato committed to Florida International University and a chance to spend a season with future Indianapolis Colt’s receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Tommy Shuler works in practice.
But Shuler said it was not hard to persuade his best friend and teammate to follow him to the Herd.

“It wasn’t that hard,” Shuler chuckled. “I just begged him every day he was at my house and kept begging and begging every time he came around.”

As the tandem enters their final year for the Herd, they both understand that history awaits. While they ultimately are in control of the season’s outcome, Shuler said last season provided a good foundation for the attention the team is receiving.

“It helped us a lot,” said Shuler. “When we beat Maryland everything just started rolling. We know what we can do but we had to stop at a point. Now we get to pick it back up and make more history. I feel like the teams ready and we are ready to go attack the season.”

Should this team have the historical season the experts are predicting, not only could the Herd finish undefeated but could also be playing in a major bowl game New Year’s Day as the recipient of the ‘Group of 5’ Golden Ticket.

Shuler and Cato could rewrite some individual records too.

Still, the Herd wide out remains humble while trying to get better each day.

“When we wake up we know we have people back home that want to see us do great and success so we have to work,” Shuler said. “We don’t come out every day thinking we are the best duo but just another day that we are trying to get better and learn something different about each other that will help us at the next level and out here this year.”

But no matter his stats or anything he accomplishes in his final season with the Herd, Shuler said there will always be one memory that stands above all others.

“Tulsa,” Shuler said without hesitation. “The sideline when we won that game. It wasn’t just because of that touchdown. It was the ceremony of the plane crash and we came back. We was winning, losing, then we took the lead. Everything played into a great success and moment. That was one of the greatest moments and I’ll never forget that. That was my favorite moment and my favorite touchdown at Marshall.”

But amongst all the hype Shuler said he strives to remained focused on enjoying the game he loves.

“I just pray that I have a successful season, we go undefeated and just win games and have fun.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Miami RedHawks Football Season Preview

While October 27, 2012 may not seem like a very long away, for the Miami (Ohio) football team that day seems like an eternity.

It was the last time the RedHawks won a football game.

Jumping out to a 20-7 lead early in the first half, Miami’s Kaleb Patterson connected with a game-winning field goal in the final minutes for a 23-20 win over then No. 23, and in-state MAC Rival, Ohio.

Since that day, 16 games have passed all resulting in a Miami loss and the Oxford community is hoping to return to the ways of 2003, where Ben Roethlisberger commanded the RedHawks to a 13-1 season and a top-10 finish.

But 2014 brings several new looks for this struggling football team eager to get back to its winning ways.
Chuck Martin was hired as the programs 36th head coach and inherits a program searching for any signs of life. Martin spent his last four years at Norte Dame where he worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2012-13) and as the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator (2010-11) while serving under head coach Brian Kelly.

During Martin’s tenure of play calling, the Fighting Irish finished 20-5 including an appearance in the BCS National Championship against Alabama in 2013. His unit averaged 26.4 points per game with a balanced offensive attack that tallied 170 yards rushing and 235 yards passing per contest.

However, Miami is nowhere close to Norte Dame’s production leaving Martin with a serious uphill battle.

Miami is picked to finish sixth in a seven team MAC East division after a 0-12, 0-8 MAC 2013 season. Another serious problem with the outlook from this season, while there are several returning members of the offense, their performance last season was far from stellar.

In seven of the RedHawks 12 games last season, they were held under 14 points while eclipsing 300 yards only once (Akron 303). Overall, Miami averaged 3.7 yards per play and just under 226 yards a game including touting the third worst rushing attack in the nation (1219 yards). More importantly, it only converted third down 41-of-167 (25 percent) of the time.

The defense was not much better.

Coming in at 108th in the nation last season, Miami’s defense could not get off the field as opponents converted 80-of-166 (48 percent) third down chances including 9-of-12 (75 percent) fourth down attempts.
Miami allowed 428 points last season—including three games it surrendered over 50—while scoring only 117 points of its own.

Needless to say, major work is needed to right the ship in Oxford.

I will preview each position and how Miami stacks up on both sides of the ball.


After losing starting quarterback Austin Boucher to injury in late October last year, true freshman Austin Gearing had to command the ship. Gearing struggled mightily going 24-of-54 for 188 yards with no passing touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also sacked 22.9 percent of the time he dropped back to pass. The upside to Gearing, he could run. He led the team in rushing, totaling 478 yards on 145 carries. Both quarterbacks last year suffered with a shaky at best offensive line and lacked a go-to guy that could make a big play.

With the addition of Gearing, Drew Kummer returns to the mix as well as redshirt freshman Tom Tupa who was recruited after being high-touted in high school. With three able bodies ready to battle for the starting position, someone forgot to tell Norte Dame transfer Andrew Hendrix that three’s company and four is a crowd.

Hendrix enters as a fifth-year senior after spending four years as a backup under Martin’s system in South Bend but has yet to prove his is a proven leader on the field. Hendrix finished 25-of-58 with 360 passing and a touchdown during his time as the Fighting Irish’s backup. He also ran for 229 yards and another score.
Should Hendrix earn the starting nod this season, he best have his running shoes laced up tight as the RedHawks’ offensive line allowed 49 sacks last season. Hendrix has the athletic ability and a familiarization with Martin’s system which makes him a favorite for the starting nod.

Running Backs

After looking at a stat sheet from last season, it is no wonder the RedHawks were ranked 125th in the nation in rushing. The team’s leading rusher was the quarterback with a wide receiver occupying the second position. Spencer Treadwell returns as the team’s leading ‘running back’ after a dreadful 2013 season. Treadwell amassed 171 yards on 56 carries with his lone score coming against Marshall. Not exactly something to write home about.

However, the running back stable appears to still be empty entering the 2014 campaign.

Miami returns sophomore Grant Niemiec and Specer McInnis and welcomes freshman Paul Moses into the backfield with Treadwell. Collectively Niemiec and McInnis had 48 touches for 147 yards and one touchdown. With a position that is a must to help alleviate the pressure from a struggling passing game, keep looking if you thought this was the hidden clue to solving this puzzle.

Wide Receivers

Leading the way for the RedHawks will be senior Dawan Scott who returns as the team’s leading receiver and second leading rusher. Scott pulled in 28 catches for 425 yards and 2 TD’s and 231 yards on 37 carries. Joining Scott in the receiving unit is fellow senior David Frazier who was second on the team in receiving with 28 catches for 302 yards and 2 TD’s in only eight games.

Redshirt junior Alvonta Jenkins and sophomore Rokeem Williams look to provide an additional target within the unit. Miami adds two big bodies in the receiving core this season with hopes of improving its 10-of-19 (53 percent) redzone touchdown production from last season.

Redshirt sophomore Sam Shisso and freshman Chris Hudson stand 6-foot 5-inches 214 pounds and 6-foot 6-inches 259 pounds, respectfully, have received positive reviews for their production in the redzone during camp. Shisso had one catch for two yards last season in seven games. Hudson was a tight end at Hazard High School (KY) but has converted to a wide out in his first year at Miami. The true freshman caught 13 touchdowns his senior season which was third best among Kentucky Division 1A tight ends.

Tight Ends

This is a position that is a total unknown for this season. Exiting is Steve Marck who played all 12 games while catching 12 passes for 133 yards and 2 TD’s and Dustin White’s 9 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

Who is poised to take over? Notre Dame transfer Alex Welch stands at the head of the class. Welch played in 22 games in four seasons for the Irish catching only one pass for eight yards. He also turned in six special teams tackles. He much like Hendrix understands Martin’s offensive game plan.

Junior Orlando David looks to join Welch on the field after working on the practice squad last season. David played in 11 games and caught seven receptions his freshman year.

Offensive Line

There is one word to sum up Miami’s offensive line last season, bad. With no blocking up front, the RedHawks saw the defense in the backfield almost as often as its own players. Not only was blocking an issue, finding a combination that worked well together never happened. Altogether, Miami used six different combinations in its first nine games.

Gone from the line is center John Anevski who started 11 games while Anevski started nine.

Senior Marcus Matthews looks to take over at center after playing in five games, three of which he started. Trevan Brown and Jeff Tanner returns as the most experienced linemen at left guard and tackle respectfully, playing in all 12 games and starting 10.

While the RedHawks return an experience left side, the right is not as fortunate. Collin Buchanan played in 10 games behind Lewis could be in line for a starting spot at right tackle while Wesley Scott, Brandyn Cook and Julian Green will compete at right guard, none of which played more than nine games last year.

Defensive Line

Just like the old saying “speed kills”, so can an undersized line. Miami returns three defensive tackles whose average weight is 275 pounds. While this is not the worst problem to deal with, the defensive ends only average 234 pounds. Giving up 50-plus pounds on the ends could spell disaster for the RedHawks chances of controlling the line of scrimmage.

Junior Bryson Albright recorded a team-high five sacks last season and 55 tackles—11.5 for loss—returns to one defensive end while sophomore J’Terius Jones (Brown) provided three sacks and 26 tackles of his own. Collectively, the tandem accounted for 8-of-14 of the team’s sacks.

This biggest issue with the defensive line, it struggled much of the season to get a push into the backfield. Without anchors on the outside, much of the same can be expected from last season.

Working the middle of the line will be senior Mwanza Wamulumba, Jimmy Rousher and Mitchell Winters. Although all three played significant minutes last season, their tackling numbers were non-existent. 

Considering the team’s three leading tacklers were two linebackers and a corner, the offense was able to bust past the undersized RedHawks defensive line.

Miami has two freshmen coming in this season but they appeared to be at the same level as what is already there. Games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage and until Miami upgrades its defensive line, several more losses are in its future.


 If there is one shining spot on this team, this is it. Last season, the linebackers were responsible for 351-of-988 team tackles (35.5 percent). While Miami loses middle linebacker Chris Wade, the team’s fourth leading tackler, it returns a full collection of linebackers in juniors Kent Kern, Josh Dooley and Tyler Tucker.
Kern led the team in tackles with 98 including five for loss and Dooley finished third with 87 tackles. Tucker finished inside the top-10 with 50 tackles. The upside of their performance, although the rushing attack frequently busts into the second level, Miami’s linebackers tackle well, preventing the break-away run.

Miami allowed only one run of 50-plus yards (53 vs Ohio) and one of 40-plus (45 vs Kent State). The bad part of their performance, not a single interception was recorded and only a handful of pass breakups were made. If anything must change in this unit, this is it. Too many big plays happened through the air.

Defensive Backs

Much like the linebackers, several players return from 2013 in the RedHawks secondary. That is a good thing for a team searching for some form of consistency. However, possibly the biggest playmaker on the defensive side of the ball is gone in Dayonne Nunley. Nunley was second in tackles with 88 and had an interception to go along with 13 pass breakups. How big was Nunley? His 13 breakups were over one-third of the team’s total of 37.

With Nunley gone from the secondary, the duty of controlling the corner position falls solely on sophomore Heath Harding and senior Chrishawn Dupuy. Harding had a team-leading three interceptions and 56 tackles while Dupuy had two interceptions and 25 tackles. Of the team’s 10 interceptions last season, five belonged to Harding and Dupuy.

Another person who plans to throw his name into the mix at corner is Notre Dame transfer Lo Wood. Wood played in 32 games during his four seasons with the Fighting Irish, recording 19 tackles with his lone interception being returned for a 57-yard touchdown in a win over Maryland. Wood may not bring best stats, but he spent time with Martin at Norte Dame which benefits every member of a secondary unit that gave up several deep balls last year including one for 54 yards at Marshall, a season-long 88 yards at Kentucky and 75 yards at Ball State.

Should the trio of corners be able to lock down opposing receivers on the outside, safeties Brison Burris and Jay Mastin could take away the deep balls that showed itself in nearly every game last season. Both had an interception last season with Mastin’s coming against Marshall. With a combined 137 tackles, only 1.5 for a loss, says that the tandem was responsible for halting another score for the opposition.

Marshall Taylor returns to the secondary after redshirting all of last season. Taylor played in all but one game, starting 5-of-7 as a true freshman in 2012 in which he led all freshman with 40 tackles.

Special Teams

On a team that desperately relies on its kickers, 2014 brings yet another position with complete uncertainty. Gone are punters Zac Murphy and kicker Mason Krysinski. Murphy sailed 79 punts averaging 46.6 yards per kick. Murphy placed 25-of-79 punts inside the 20 while earning 18 fair catches and seven touchbacks
Krysinski had a lesser of a duty as he only tallied 30 kickoffs while averaging 54.3 yards per kick.

After the RedHawks special teams finished in the top-50 last season, place-kicker Kaleb Patterson finds himself the man who must carry the special teams forward. The junior was a perfect 12-of-12 on PAT’s and 7-of-11 on field goal attempts including booting a season-best 52-yard attempt that sailed through the uprights. Patterson has been cool under pressure his entire career at Miami. In his freshman season, Patterson connected on a game-winning field goal in the final two minutes to knock of No. 23 Ohio.

Reports from camp have Patterson consistently connecting from 50-plus yards which provides some hope for an offense that struggled to break 100 points all season. Patterson may not be the answer to all of the RedHawks problems, but he certainly will help.

The return team consists of senior J.J. Greenwood and sophomore Fred McRae. Greenwood split kickoff returns with McRae while McRae handled 12-of-15 punt returns last season. While neither did anything extraordinary in the return game, McRae possesses the speed to break off a big gain if he finds daylight in front of him.

Miami opens its season August 30th as it plays host to Marshall. While Marshall struggled early with Miami in last season's matchup in Huntington, the Herd pulled away after being tied at 14 at the half for a 52-14 win.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Marshall Football Notebook 8-20

Coach's Corner

Coach Holliday opened with talking about the Paint the Capital City Green event that takes place tomorrow evening in Charleston.

"It's huge," Holliday said. "Its a well attended event. There will be a lot of people there, our players, we will take about 20 of our players there for that deal and our fans will get a chance to interact with our players and gives us an opportunity to thank our fan base for everything they do for us throughout the year."

Holliday said he likes what he has seen from his young receivers.

"It's good, its great to be honest," said Holliday. "We didn't get a lot of those plays a year ago. So normally what happens in practice happens in games. So if we can continue to make plays down the road in a game situation we will be alright because we can make them here in practice."

Holliday commented on rookie receiver Angelo Jean-Louis saying he is a talented guy but lets hold off Sportscenter--at least for now.

"He's a talented guy," Holliday said of Jean-Louis. "He may be one of our most consistent guys out here this fall. If he continues to do that, he's going to be a good player."

Holliday talked about the quality of the freshman coming into the program and the number of them that could see action this season.

"I think we have nine true freshman that are going to play a significant role this year," Holliday said. "That being said, we are bringing in good players and that's a tribute to Mike (Hamrick) and Dr. Kopp for providing us with the facilities we have to attract them here. Our coaching staff has done a tremendous job of recruiting. We think we have a pretty solid football team when you have nine freshmen who have a chance to come in and play.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

After receiving a challenge from Rakeem Cato, the entire Marshall receiving core took the Ice Bucket Challenge as a unit. It can be viewed HERE.

Senior wideout Tommy Shuler challenged Coach Holliday, Team Chaplin Rev and Athletic Director Mike Hamrick.

Hoskins Injury Holding Him Out

Former Herd tight end has been fighting for a roster spot with the Miami Dolphins through training camp but has also been fighting a hamstring injury. In the first 53 man roster projection, it appears Hoskins is not listed with the tight ends, but it also appears his injury is the only reason.

Read NFL beat writer and columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Omar Kelly's report HERE.

Scout's Honor...Again.

More NFL scouts attended the Herd's practice session today as reported by Herd Football's Assistant AD Mark Gale's Twitter account. The San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs were in attendance of today's session making this the 7th and 8th NFL team to visit the Herd's practice sessions. Add these to the list of the Bears, Texans, Bengals, Cardinals, Browns and Patriots who have all attended a Herd practice.

Is a Group of 5 school powerful enough?

Dennis Dodd from released another article today regarding the Group of 5 which Marshall is listed at the top. Dodd likes the Herd's chances this season but said it takes 12-0 or it becomes a distant memory.

Read his article GROUP OF 5 ARTICLE HERE.

Football Promotional Events Schedule Released

Marshall released the 2014 promotional event schedule for all the Herd's home football games. All games will have some special promotion and can save fans money on tickets. A big announcement for the Rhode Island game all of the first responders for the Morris Building Fire will be recognized.