Inside Marshall Sports

Q&A with Jason Munz, Hattiesburg American

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The Southern Miss beat writer and I had a Q&A exchange, and here are some of his views on the Golden Eagles:

Q: Obviously, Southern Miss’ coaching change came amid much, much better circumstances than the one before. How has the team and the fan base treated the transition from Todd Monken to Jay Hopson?

A: Monken’s resignation came as a bit of a shock, especially given the timing. I think most people thought once some of the college football openings that made sense for Monken (Illinois, Virginia) were filled with other coaches, there was sort of a sigh of relief. Then, less than two weeks before Signing Day, the NFL comes calling. Nobody blamed Monken for leaving. The timing just wasn’t ideal. Given all that, the fan base and the team really took to Hopson pretty quickly. I’ve been saying it’s the smoothest transition I’ve ever seen.

Q: How welcomed was the Golden Eagles’ off week, and will we see a rested or rusty team come Saturday?

A: The team would be hard-pressed to look any more rusty than it did in the two weeks leading up to the bye. So I’m going to say the off week came at a very good time (post-LSU), and Southern Miss took advantage of some much needed time off to get ready for the stretch drive.

Q: Discuss the state of pass protection in front of Nick Mullens. Marshall has played him twice and has 8 sacks, a defensive TDs and a bunch of hits on him.

Marshall has certainly benefited from having a big, athletic defensive front in recent years. Couple that with the relative youth and inexperience (in 2013 and 2014), and we’ve seen what can happen. Southern Miss’ offensive front has done a better job this season of keeping Nick clean. Seniors Cameron Tom, Oliver Bates and Brandon Farmer, and redshirt junior Devin Farrior have had a lot to do with that. Lot of experience between those guys.

Q: What is the most pleasant surprise on this Southern Miss team?

Probably Allenzae Staggers at wide receiver. He’s a junior college transfer, and was probably the lesser heralded of the two (Isaiah Jones being the other) Southern Miss picked up during the offseason. The monster game against Rice (292 yards receiving and 3 TDs) obviously helped his numbers. But he’s been the most dependable receiver for USM this season. He’s sixth in C-USA in receiving yards per game and has scored five TDs.

Q: Finally, what the heck happened at UT-San Antonio (55-32 loss)?

You name it! First and foremost, Southern Miss was not prepared for what the Roadrunners threw at them. Second, Mullens missed a series at a pretty critical juncture in the game – and he wasn’t the same when he was put back into the game. But, the defense simply didn’t show up in San Antonio. No sugarcoating that one.


Conference USA notebook for 10/29

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Hello, Herd fans!

There was some separating of the pretenders and contenders in the league last week. Old Dominion was exposed by Western Kentucky, Texas-San Antonio lost in a 5-overtime game and Florida International was brought back to Earth. Away we go …

Last week

Most notable

Middle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45: RB I’Tavius Mathers continues to be the real deal, as he ran for 215 yards and a TD in this 4-hour bout. He also added 8 receptions for 48 yards, and he was named offensive player of the week for the 3rd time. With 5 100-yard efforts in a row, he now leads the league with 940.

K Canon Rooker went 3 for 3 on field goals and 6 for 6 on extra points to be named special teams player of the week.

Western Kentucky 59, Old Dominion 24: The Hilltoppers scored 31 points in the 2nd quarter, a high in their FBS era that staked them to a 52-14 halftime lead. Mike White was a filthy 28 of 32 for 378 yards and 4 TDs, a passer rating of 221.7. That’ll work.

North Texas 35, Army 18: Army had punished Rice and UTEP, so the Mean Green looks a little better than the cellar-dweller it was made out to be. NT forced 7 turnovers and Eric Jenkins was named defensive player of the week with 2 interceptions (one brought back for a TD), 2 pass break-ups and a forced fumble. Jeffrey Wilson ran for 160 yards.

Hold your nose

Louisiana Tech 44, FIU 24: The Bulldogs have won 11 straight C-USA games in October, as Trent Taylor caught 11 passes for 156 yards and a TD. Carlos Henderson returned a kickoff 92 yards for another score. Crushing blow: Xavier Woods picking off Alex McGough and returning it 45 yards to the FIU 1. That resulted in a 34-17 lead.

FIU doesn’t have the greatest QB legacy — McGough, a junior, is now the school leader in career TD passes with 43.

UTEP 52, UTSA 49, 5 OT: OK, this was a thriller, but the Roadrunners really lost in the 4th overtime — they recovered a UTEP fumble, but missed a 42-yard field goal that would have won it. Tough, tough loss for a West Division darkhorse.

Rice 65, Prairie View 44: Rice led 42-7, so don’t read much into this. Still, there’s no such thing as a good game involving a down Rice team and Prairie View, especially with 21 penalties and 7 touchbacks.

C-USA best results vs. P-5

Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35

Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20 (Tech had ball with lead in 4th quarter)

Arizona 32, UTSA 28 (Roadrunners led in 4th quarter)

Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 30 (WKU went for 2 and the win)

Middle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45

Overall vs P-5: 2-18

This week’s offerings, in order of interest (MU-Southern Miss not included):

Middle Tennessee (5-2, 2-1) at FIU (3-5, 3-1): Yeah, the Panthers are still tied for first. Is it me, or do these guys always play at home, at that lovely (cough, cough) stadium?


Old Dominion (4-3, 2-1) at UTEP (2-5, 1-3): The Monarchs take the league’s longest possible journey, 1,988 miles by road. RB Jeremy Cox has rushed for 10 TDs scoring in all 6 games he has played.


North Texas (4-3, 2-1) at UTSA (3-4, 2-2): Time to see what the Mean Green is really made of in this battle of darkhorses. After this, NT plays Louisiana Tech, WKU and Southern Miss.


WKU (5-3, 3-1) at Florida Atlantic (1-6, 0-3): The Owls have the chance to become the league’s first bowl-ineligible team.


Rice (1-6, 0-4) at Louisiana Tech (5-3, 3-1): These Owls just happen to start later, so they likely will be the 2nd bowl-ineligible team. This could get very, very ugly.


Last week vs. line: 3-3 (including MU game). Season: 27-31.

Grades for Charlotte game

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Five possessions in the second half, five trips to the Charlotte end, zero points. all I need to know.


Can’t flunk them. Giving up the 16-play, 80-yard go-ahead TD drive was tough to watch, and the unit gave up 263 1st-half yards, yes, but it also had a few three-and-outs. Ultimately offense and special teams lost it.


Hyleck Foster had a 52-yard kickoff return, Keion Davis nearly fumbled a kick into the end zone from the 10 and Amareto Curraj missed a game-tying attempt. The placekicker position needs to be reexamined.


Can’t flunk Chase Litton, either. You can do worse than 32 of 46 for 262 yards, and he was victimized by 2 big-time drops.


Watching the defense botch the Jason Smith “Is he in or is he out?” substitution was enough for me. And what was up with Raylen Elzey in the game on a critical down?


Charlotte is better than it was a year ago, but you have to beat those guys. And the Herd went from being in the thick of the division race to facing a bowl-less season.

Calling MU vs. (not San Francisco) 49ers

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Hello, Herd fans!

Enough joy over finally beating an FBS foe. Enough joy about being a loss out of the East Division lead. The cold, cruel truth is this: There is no team you can say Marshall will absolutely beat under any circumstances.

Believe it or not, that includes Charlotte.

The 49ers have some intangibles, starting with an enormous senior class. That includes 19 fifth-year players who started with the program in 2012, a year before the program’s first game.

Talented? In some cases, not really. Experienced? You betcha.

There’s just enough top-level talent to make this team interesting — nose guard Larry Ogunjobi and running back Kalif Phillips among them. The way the 49ers’ coaches handle the 3-4 defense is to maximize Ogunjobi’s ability, making him more than a space-eater. He is a future NFLer who can disrupt the run and rush the passer.

And then there is the introduction of Hasaan Klugh, who appears to pack more talent than every 49er quarterback in four years, combined. Sure, Marshall has played the ultimate dual-threat QB in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, but Klugh will be be a plenty difficult test.

It’s still tough to get a handle on this Marshall team. For me, the most encouraging aspects of the Thundering Herd’s 27-21 win over Florida Atlantic are: (1) Chase Litton settling down and hitting every target available, (2) running for tough yards when needed, if not consistently, and (3) Chris Jackson not being a weak link defensively.

With a trip to Southern Mississippi on the horizon, Marshall needs something more than a come-from-behind-late victory. My guess? The Herd needs to clamp down on Klugh and force him into 2 or 3 key mistakes, and then keep Phillips under 125 rushing yards.

Holding the 49ers to 21 points — that should always result in a win — isn’t too much to ask. Finally reaching into the 30s isn’t too much for the Herd offense.

I may be exuding too much confidence, but this is what the Herd can do, and what it will do.

I think.


C-USA notebook for games of 10/22

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Hello, Herd fans!

Conference USA may have had a dreadful September, but it’s having the most fun October. Every team not named UTEP and Rice is leading the West; don’t even look at who’s atop the East.

Mark my words: One or both divisions will be won by a team 6-2 or maybe even 5-3.

With that, here is the week that was, and the week that will be.

Last week

Most notable

Western Kentucky 44, Middle Tennessee 43 (2 OT): OK, so this is the best game of the year, supplanting, WKU’s loss to Louisiana Tech the week before. Mike White threw for 391 yards and 2 TDs, and Deon Yelder blocked an extra point in the second overtime to set up the Hilltoppers’ win.

Skyler Simcox, perhaps the answer to WKU’s placekicking quandary, was named the Special Teams Player of the Week after his 14-point game. He hit a 52-yarder at the end of the first half.

Florida International 27, Charlotte 26: Go look it up — the Panthers lead the East Division by a half-game over Old Dominion, as Alex McGough threw a 9-yard TD to Jonnu Smith with 1:05 left.

The Panthers may still finish 3-5 in the league for all we know, but McGough is rounding into form and TE Smith was always, always for real. The problem with this team always will be run-blocking — there’s no way Alex Gardner should be held to 29 yards on 12 carries.

LB Anthony Wint is having a nice year. After tying his career high of 13 tackles, he was named C-USA’s Defensive Player of the Week for the 2nd time in 3 weeks.

Louisiana Tech 56, Massachusetts 28: I’d watch the replay to see Carlos Henderson catch 12 balls for 326 yards and 5 TDs. The Bulldogs’ yardage record is 405 yards by the great Troy Edwards.

Henderson was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week. He has 558 yards and 8 TDs the last two weeks, and he is combining with teammate Trent Taylor for 1,871 yards and 18 TDs.

Marshall is fortunate to not have those guys on the schedule.

Hold your nose

Texas-San Antonio 14, Rice 13: After smashing Southern Mississippi, the Roadrunners were due for a letdown. The Owls lose on an extra points, summing up the first half of their 0-6 season.

Louisiana State 45, Southern Miss 10: Losing to a bigger-name SEC foe is not the end of the world, but you can’t shake the though that the Eagles were a tad overblown and their defense will betray them. Nick Mullens went 25 of 36, but for only 161 yards.

Marshall 27, Florida Atlantic 21: Had to put this game, no matter how important it was to the Herd, here. Outside analysts couldn’t help but notice the 2-9 combined record.

C-USA best results vs. P-5

Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35

Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20 (Tech had ball with lead in 4th quarter)

Arizona 32, UTSA 28 (Roadrunners led in 4th quarter)

Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 30 (WKU went for 2 and the win)

Note: Marshall cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3 points in the 4th quarter, but never got the ball back with a chance to tie or go ahead. Therefore, that game is not listed here.

Overall vs P-5: 1-18

This week’s offerings, in order of interest (MU-Charlotte not included):

Old Dominion (4-2, 2-0) at WKU (4-3, 2-1), 1 p.m. (ASN): ODU is entrant No. 1 in the “Are They For Real?” sweepstakes. Jeremy Cox and Ray Lawry are combining for 168.6 yards per game.

For WKU, Anthony Wales rushed for 158 yards against MTSU, and has 2 such 150+ games.


Louisiana Tech (4-3, 2-1) at FIU (3-4, 3-0), 7 p.m. (ESPN3): Panthers are No. 2 in the “Are They For Real?” derby. Their home stretch is Tech, MTSU, WKU, open date, Marshall and ODU.

If FIU somehow survives that and contends for the East title, I offer this: My beloved Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup after sacking their coach — and they also did so in 2009. That, and you can do worse than Ron Cooper as your interim coach.


North Texas (3-3, 2-1) at Army, noon (CBS Sports Network): The Mean Green is No. 3 in the “Are They for Real?” derby. The Black Knights have worn out Texas-El Paso and Rice, but then again, so have everybody else.

The Mean Green has raised its scoring average from 15.2 per game to 25.8, and has reduced the defensive scoring from 41.2 to 28.7.


Middle Tennessee (4-2, 2-1) at Missouri, 4 p.m. (SEC Network): The Tigers are 0-3 in the SEC, losing the last 2 by a combined 82-21. The Blue Raiders are too good to be an SEC homecoming opponent, and could inflict embarrassment.

Brent Stockstill was 42 of 54 for 434 yards, his 9th 300-yard game in his last 12.


UTEP (1-5, 0-3) at UTSA (3-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.: Nifty facts about the Roadrunners — Josh Stewart is averaging a national-best 27.1 yards per catch, and UTSA has scored 30 points after opponents’ special-teams mistakes.


FCS parade: Prairie View at Rice (0-6, 0-4). America’s most unappetizing game of the week.

Last week vs. line: 4-2 (including MU game). Season: 24-28.

Grades for FAU game

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Rushing still a problem, really, as tailbacks went 34 carries for 121 yards, 3.3 average. BUT … an O-line that was 2 and sometimes 3 starters down got the big push in the 4th quarter when needed. Litton and his receivers kept coming up big. How about that Josh Knight?


Some of you think this is generous, but the simple fact is this: That unit gave up 147 total yards and ZERO points in the 2nd half. Struggled with the tempo and run fits in the 1st half.


Curraj missed an extra point and shanked that kickoff out of bounds, but did hit 2 FGs. Big ups to Kaare Vedvik for his punts of 55 and 49, with one bouncing up at the 4-yard line. Another concern: The Herd gave up a 12-yard punt return, which doesn’t often happen.


One awful pick at the end of the first half, blowing a very possible scoring drive. But Chase Litton kept coming up big on that final drive, and threw first-down balls to seven different receivers — that’s spreading it around. The 65-yard TD pass to Knight was big-time.


Chuck Heater did something right in the 2nd half with that defense, and the offense seemed a more creative. O-line showed it can survive with 3 starters out (2 did return) and get a push. Much stronger finish that last week at North Texas … coaches get credit for that, but have to find a way to keep this team from starting so slowly.


You were warned that FAU is a pain in the rear, even at 1-6. The Herd avoided dropping to 1-5, and is 1-1 in the conference, a loss behind East Division front-runners … Florida International and Old Dominion? Wow.


Desperation, the queen of Homecoming

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Happy Homecoming, Herd fans!

Welcome to the Desperation Bowl. I’m at a loss to remember a game between teams with a four- and five-game losing streak; maybe we’re talking the Seventies. (Marshall and Alabama-Birmingham 2007 pitted a 2-10 Herd against 1-11 Blazers, but MU didn’t have such a skid at the time.)

There are three teams the Herd is 3-0 against since 2013 — Southern Mississippi, Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Of those teams, FAU has been the biggest pain in the rear.

The Owls always will be athletic, particularly in the secondary. There will be other stars, including defensive end Trey Hendrickson and running back Gregory Howell. On the other hand, they have had injury-related shuffling in the offense line and Jason Driskel is still no Jeff Driskel.

The Herd has run successfully against this bunch, but that will be tied to Chase Litton’s success. I hope for a little creativity in the pass game, mixing in a screen pass or two with the usual downfield shot to Michael Clark. Tight ends Ryan Yurachek and Emanuel Byrd didn’t get enough love at North Texas.

Defensively, the Herd is closer than you think. The before-and-after of that fake punt is inarguable — the defense played well enough to win before and couldn’t defend the run afterward. North Texas held the ball 36 minutes.

But the corners are a more comfortable and the six sacks were encouraging.

Still, look for FAU’s Gregory Howell to get his 100-plus, for he’ll get the carries to do so. Keep him under 150 and you’ll like the result. And maybe the back end can intercept a pass for once.

This will be a white-knuckler into the fourth quarter — remember, FAU has lost its last three by a combined 11 points. On that stat alone, the 11-point line in MU’s favor feels ridiculous.

And it is, but I cautiously predict the Herd fundamental improvement in all phases. Maybe even a successful field goal; who knows?


C-USA notebook for 10/15

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Hello, Herd fans!

This will make you cringe, but Texas-San Antonio’s unexpected 55-32 waxing of Southern Mississippi gave the Lone Star State two conference wins in the same weekend. The last time that happened was Nov. 21-22, 2014 (North Texas over Florida International; Rice over Texas-El Paso).

With that grisly piece of trivia, the notable and not-so-notable results last week:

Louisiana Tech 55, Western Kentucky 52: If you missed this Thursday nighter, you missed perhaps the best game of the year. The Hilltoppers’ 13-game league win streak ended, but they had a combined six TDs from names Marshall fans painfully know: Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris and Anthony Wales.

Tech receiver Carlos Henderson was a player of the week with eight catches for 232 yards and 3 TDs. Jonathan Barnes was special teams player of the week for his 13 points, including a 54-yard FG.

UTSA 55, Southern Miss 32: The Roadrunners gained a school-record 532 yards on just 47 plays, had two 100-yard rushers (Jalen Rhodes 165, Jarveon Williams 122) and Dalton Sturm was 10 of 12 for 193. Previous loss at Old Dominion notwithstanding, this rebuilding project is ahead of schedule and the West Division is now in chaos.

Freshman LB Josiah Tauaefa was defensive player of the week with 12 tackles and an interception late in the game.

Hold your nose

FIU 35, UTEP 21: The Panthers are tied for the East Division lead with a trip to Charlotte this week. No lie.

Charlotte 28, Florida Atlantic 23: Yes, we had a walk-off video reversal. Check out the video.

Charlotte QB Hasaan Klugh was a co-offensive player of the week, going 14 of 17 for 223 yards and 3 TDs. He also ran for 54 yards and a TD.

North Texas 38, Marshall 21: No further explanation needed.

Standings: East — MTSU, ODU, FIU 2-0; WKU, Charlotte 1-1; Marshall 0-1; FAU 0-2.

C-USA best results vs. P-5
Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20 (Tech had ball with lead in 4th quarter)
Arizona 32, UTSA 28 (led in 4th quarter)
Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 30 (WKU went for 2 and the win)
Note: Marshall cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3 points in the 4th quarter, but never got the ball back with a chance to tie or go ahead. Therefore, that game is not listed here.
Overall vs P-5: 1-17

This week’s offerings, in order of interest (MU-FAU not included):

WKU (3-3, 1-1) at Middle Tennessee (4-1, 2-0), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3): Here comes the 100 Miles of Hate, a nifty little rivalry of two schools on opposite sides of Nashville. Since WKU joined C-USA in 2014, the teams have split, with MTSU winning in 3 OTs in 2014 and the Hilltoppers dismantling the Blue Raiders 58-28 last year.

FIU (2-4, 2-0) at Charlotte (2-4, 1-1), 6 p.m.: Enjoy prosperity while you can, Panthers. After this one, you face Louisiana Tech, MTSU and WKU in a row. Marshall two weeks after that.
Alex Gardner has four 100-yard games for the Panthers, while Charlotte WR Austin Duke had his 11th 100-yard outing, and has 3,000 career yards.

UTSA (2-3, 1-1) at Rice (0-5, 0-3), 7 p.m. (beIN Sports): Roadrunners are the most intriguing team in the league, but Rice is the least — except this may be the strange upset of the week. In the Southern Miss game, the Roadrunners had four of the longest 13 plays in their short history.

Southern Miss (4-2) at No. 25 Louisiana State, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Sports): The Golden Eagles are too good to be an SEC homecoming victim, so it’s Alumni Band Reunion night. But here’s the real news for USM, and it’s not good:  QB Nick Mullens may miss the game with a thumb injury he played through against UTSA.

Louisiana Tech (3-3) at Massachusetts, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3): I’m tired of looking at UMass on these schedules.

Last week vs. line: 3-3 (including MU game). Season: 20-26.

Grades for North Texas game

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The run got stuffed. The 2 tailbacks, Keion Davis and Anthony Anderson, combined for 40 yards on 20 carries. Chase Litton hit the deck 5 times, making the run total a 13 net. All the offensive problems started here, against a team that was giving up 224 yards per game.


For 42 minutes, this unit more or less played well enough to win. That assessment ended with Jeffrey Wilson’s 72-yard run.


Lowest I’ve ever graded a unit that had a kick return TD. Missed 2 FGs, roughed the punter and gave up a horrifying fake field goal.


Probably could have made better use of Michael Clark, even though he caught 8 for 122. At times, it didn’t look like Chase and his receivers were playing in the same game.


I have no basis to improve this mark.


Can this team win five of the next seven to go to a bowl? You tell me.


Marshall-North Texas prediction

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Hello, Herd fans!

Is it time to go to Texas? Hadn’t been there in four years, right?

No, three. I had to be reminded that Marshall was sent to Rice for the 2013 Conference USA championship game (“we can extend the BCS formula”), which the Herd lost. I had successfully drummed that entire trip out of my memory.

Thanks a lot, Grant Traylor.

Anyway, the Herd hasn’t done well in Texas, and will now play in the sixth different Lone Star venue. This Apogee Stadium venue looks pretty cool, and I hear rumors these guys are a respectable draw by modern-day C-USA standards.

As for the game, I look for Marshall to run for 200-plus yards, but suffer a turnover or two (courtesy of Kishawn McClain), and maybe have to settle for a field goal or three in the red zone.

Defensively, the Herd’s problems aren’t going away, and mobile QB Nelson Fine will strike early. The Mean Green is a good candidate to take a 7-0 lead after Marshall wins the toss and defers. NT may lead at halftime, so brace yourselves.

MU’s halftime adjustments should be spot-on, though, and clamp down on Fine & Co. MU’s offense will be solid and balanced, though not spectacular.

This will be win No. 2 in Texas, but you’d better keep provisions on hand for all four quarters. This won’t be automatic.