Inside Marshall Sports

A.J. Graham is out

Word out of Huntington, through Randy Burnside: A.J. won’t play, and is day-to-day from there. “Brian will start and 8 will play,” Doc says.
8 is Eddie Sullivan, as you probably know.

Herd-WVU: Well, what do we have here?

In this rare instance, I direct you to today’s Daily Mail, where WVU’s Mike Parsons tells us how tough it is to schedule nonconference opponents.

So let me get this straight: Parsons and Ed Pastilong give the “gas chamber” look when the WVU-Herd series is announced at the Capitol, WVU partisans scream to high heaven about the governor sticking his nose into it, the hoodlum element of the fan base come to Huntington to verbally abuse Marshall fans, wreck their tailgates, let air out of tires, etc., and calls for the series to end grow louder after the Mountaineers are put in jeopardy.

All this, keeping in mind that WVU dug deep, deep, deep into the Big South to schedule a team that is currently 1-4. And I see concern about filling the schedule?

No, no, no, no, no, no. I can’t let that one go.

Of course, I’m waiting for somebody to actually defend the practice of scheduling Coastal Carolina, paying them a few dozen used helmets and a Wal-Mart gift card … You know, the “self-sustaining” athletic department has to save a buck here and there. (By the way, I’d rip MU for scheduling that game. I like the Herd’s 2010 schedule because it lacks any FCS foe.)

It’s too common a practice. A whopping 71 FCS teams have taken the field in major-college stadiums, and Appalachian State would mop the turf with about 63 of them. More than a few are worse than WVU — Alabama should be disqualified from the BCS national championship game for bringing in *Georgia State* on *Nov. 20*, ostensibly under the guise of “homecoming.” As you may know, the Panthers are just getting off the ground under coach Bill Curry, who should know better himself.

I think this would be a great time for mid-major conferences that can to go to nine-game schedules, putting more guarantee-price pressure on the big boys. Probably won’t happen, but it’s a heck of a thought.

This issue may surface in my Monday column. We’ll see.

***

Haven’t written about it yet, but I did attend Marshall’s basketball practice. I have no idea, and I mean none, how well the Herd will do this season, but I know this: The coach isn’t boring … and he may have the most physical team in Herd history.

He ran practice Wednesday, and wore me out just watching him. At one point, he teaches his team about toughness, diving on loose balls, etc.

“Here we are right now.” (gently rolls ball along court, when walks over and picks it up)

“Here’s where we went to be in 9 days!” (rolls ball along court, then dives on it like a lion)

And then he gets the ball and starts yelling about last year’s team falling short of its goals. The last word I make out is “CBI” before he punts the ball over the seats in one corner. Got better hang time than Kase Whitehead, too.

Back to football, bad news for Herd fans: UCF beat the hell out of a better-than-average UAB team Wednesday night, 42-7. They looked so good, they impressed Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi, which isn’t easy to do.

Here is the Birmingham News account.

Penalties from USM game

The large number of penalties was memorable for several reasons.

Of course, they contributed to Marshall’s poor performance. Here is the itemized rundown:
1. Michael Janace offsides on 3rd-and-12, giving Southern Miss a 3rd-and-7. Very bad penalty, contributed to a touchdown.

1A. Personal foul on the kickoff, offset by a Southern Miss facemask foul.

1B. Offsides on the kickoff return team, if you can believe it. That foul was declined, as Troy Evans only made the 26.

2. In second quarter, Rashad Jackson’s illegal block. Evans returned the ball 10 yards to the MU 30, but the penalty went from the 18 to the 9. The Herd then goes 3-and-out, Kase Whitehead hits a short punt and it’s eventually 21-0.

3. Monterius Lovett is all over Dominique Sullivan for pass interference on second-and-goal from the MU 3. Automatic first down at the 2, just before the Eagles go up 21-0.

4. C.J. Crawford illegal block on the next kickoff return. Half the distance and the Herd starts from the 6. 3-and-out, blocket punt, argh.

5. Brandon Campbell false start No. 1, turning 2nd-and-4 into 2nd-and-9. Drive killer.

6. 3rd quarter, after A.J. Graham gets his first third down, Campbell commits false start No. 2. The Herd had no prayer when it got behind the stakes, so this was a drive-killer.

7. Jerome Kelson commits a personal foul on a kickoff, giving Southern Miss the ball at its 35.

8. Campbell gets the hat trick of false starts to start the fourth quarter. Herd has 1st-and-15.

9. Campbell then holds on a Graham scramble. Now it’s 1st-and-25.

10. Given new life after a USM personal foul, Alex Schooler clips, the 15-yard version. 1st-and-25.

11. Martin Ward commits a personal foul, and he deserved one the play before. After that, it’s 2nd-and-39.

12. Holding to start the Herd’s final drive, leading to a 3-and-out.

That’s 12 penalties for 112 yards, and it all hurt. Call it a breakdown in discipline, etc., and you’d be right.

But if you win by 25 points and rack up 130 yards on 11 penalties, I guess that means you’re aggressive. And it was the case with Southern Miss, who committed 5 personal fouls and my favorite, an unsportsmanlike conduct on the coin toss.

I won’t comment further, except to say this: The teams are starting to dislike each other. I did a column, 2009 I think, on how these rivalries needed a little time to brew from scratch, such as Furman, App State etc., back in the day … I think you’ll find this a good example.

OFFENSE: F
46 or whatever yards in the first half, 11 first downs total, 3 of 13 on third down, run game was difficult at best, a couple of sacks … Why break it down further? This unit was awful.

DEFENSE: F
If it weren’t for Mario Harvey, the game could have been frightening. 9 of 12 on third downs in the first half … ugh.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Troy Evans’ kickoff return can’t budge this grade … shoot, he got that because USM relaxed on another one of his stupid stop-and-go moves. The mistakes were incredible.

QUARTERBACKING: F
A.J. Graham was a positive… until he got injured. He left on crutches, and later said he’s going to be fine. We’ll see… In the meantime, should the Herd ever start Brian Anderson on the road? Or anywhere?

COACHING: F
I’d like to have mercy, because I’m not sure they believed what they saw. But it’s their responsibility.

OVERALL: F
Southern Miss is a really, really fun team to watch, in all three phases. Marshall is not.

Southern Miss pregame

First, it looks like Drew Stewart is chatting it up with coaches, graduate assistants, etc. He is going to handle kickoffs, wearing No. 81. … Alex Schooler is starting his second straight game at left guard, with Landis Provancha out.

For Southern Miss, DeAndre Brown is wearing blue jeans. I don’t think that’s part of the uniform. He’s out.

… enjoy the game… I will be sending right at the final gun tonight… May put some extra coverage on the Web afterward, we’ll see.

Off to Southern Miss

The week’s work is in the can, and it’s time to shuffle off to Southern Mississippi.

This is one of my favorite venues in Conference USA. As I often say, Hattiesburg is much like Huntington: Same type town, compact campus and off-campus area, same type stadium, same time fan base. The key differences are terrain, climate and nearly primitive air service.

The only commercial flights into Hattiesburg are a few Delta runs from Memphis, last I checked. They were Northwest flights, taken in with that merger. … and the only way you’re flying direct into Memphis is in the cargo hold of a FedEx plane from Huntington.

It’s about 13 hours if you want to make that investment … flight-wise, your options are Jackson, Mobile, New Orleans (maybe better fare but longer trip in) and … Gulfport/Biloxi, which was cheaper for the first time in my 3 trips. That, my friends, will be hazardous duty.

If you’re in Hattiesburg, the recommendation for ribs is Letha’s, hands down. Finding it is half the fun, but you won’t believe the price for what you get.

On to football, and my fearless prediction: Freakish Southern Miss receiver DeAndre Brown will not play.

The word out of Hattiesburg has been that Brown is day-to-day with a “lower leg strain.” After a few days of writing that sentence, my red flags are flying all over the place. Should have qualified that with quote marks or something, as I just did.

Coaches can get weird when star players get injured. In defense of the Golden Eagles, it is a good idea to plant the seed in Marshall’s head that Brown will play — preparation time is finite, even on the Rich Rodriguez calendar, and the Herd has given up some big, big plays to the big man.

I usually listen to Steve Cotton when he visits The Morning News on Friday. Today, he theorized that Brown might just have a stress fracture. That’s a good theory, but I’m going to throw in another one.

How ’bout one of the most dreaded nagging injuries in football: Wait for it … the high ankle sprain.

Think about it: Those put you day-to-day for weeks, or so has been my observation. If you’re talking to the public, what phrase triggers more anxiety: “lower leg strain” or “high ankle sprain”?

Remember, it’s just a theory … Something we’ll be watching for in pregame warmups.

Very late grades for Ohio game

Maybe I should do these before exiting the scene of the crime…

OFFENSE: B-
Good passing was offset by a bad day on the ground — 2.7 yards per rush *without* any sacks to alter that figure. One more TD would have been perfect — and the Herd should have gotten it after Lovett’s pick. That was a badly wasted possession.

DEFENSE: B-
Played more than well enough to win … until playing the “Hail Mary” badly. Forget the “knock it down” chant — you can’t knock the ball down if you don’t even get close to it. Wow.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Held Ohio’s return game in check, but the blocked extra point and the fake field goal could have lost the game. Kellen, Kellen, Kellen, how do you bite on that *awful* pass fake?

QUARTERBACKING: A
No sacks, no picks and 8 of 15 on third downs, including all four attempts on the go-ahead drive. With the pressure Ohio was able to bring, it’s tough to ask much more.

COACHING: C-
I was on board with the Herd going for it on fourth-and-2 at the Ohio 28, instead of kicking a 45-yard field goal. Too bad someone channeled John Shannon on the play call.

OVERALL: B-
A Herculean task awaits at Southern Miss, but at least the Herd doesn’t lug an 0-4 record down south.

Other updates

Johnny Jones and T.J. Ross are out… Monterius Lovett could end up starting at CB, we’ll see … and the big news: Ohio MLB Noah Keller is OUT. We think he’s on crutches, with his foot in a special shoe. … Dang!

Countdown to the BG game

As I get ready to head to Bowling Green, one thing about the MAC: Some of the newspapers are pretty good. Here is a blog item to lead you to the Toledo Blade, by John Wagner.

I believe the two losses to FCS teams he refers to are Ball State to Liberty and Akron to Gardner-Webb. What the …?

Tonight/Saturday, I take a look at the MAC after Marshall’s exit … it’s just a little tongue in cheek.

BG line, some more WVU fodder

After going over Dave Clawson’s press conference, I’m hard-pressed to imagine how Bowling Green’s O-line can handle Marshall’s front, even at Doyt Perry Stadium. As you may know, the top-notch center (Ben Bojicic) is out this week and a few more, and a TRUE FRESHMAN will start at left guard (the left guard moves over to snap). … I just found out that one projected starter was knocked out before the season started.

If you recall, the last true freshman to start on the Marshall O-line was Doug Legursky in the 2004 opener against Troy. He had a fine career, of course, but that debut against DeMarcus Ware & Co. was not pretty.

How lean is BG’s O-line? The Falcons’ coaching staff pulled the second-string nose tackle across the ball and is grooming him to jump in as quickly as feasible. I have that item at the end of my BG piece tonight/Thursday.

As you see in comments on another blog item, the English soccer hooligan wannabes among the WVU fan base found Huntington this time around. Here’s another incident: A woman adorned in gold and blue saw a line of tables with tailgating food, put her arm on one end and swiped every dish off the tables. She smiled when called the appropriate names … she should have gotten decked.

These idiots didn’t show up in 2007. I guess that’s an unintended consequence of the new popularity of GPS units. …

So, Herd fans, have you heard the “we’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose” line from WVU-dom as much as I have this week. What claptrap! Again, I haven’t heard the first complaint out of them about the scheduling of Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers negate all arguments here.

If memory serves me, this is the Herd’s first trip to a MAC stadium since 2004, when it lost to a very good … wait for it … Bowling Green team. And if you need to be reminded what Marshall left behind read this piece until you get to the $15 deal. Hey, I’ve got the fever!

Away from Herd-dom, what do you think about the SEC fining Mississippi State over the cowbells? Oh, for the love of God …

BG’s average attendance since the Herd left:

2009… 14,044
2008… 15,701
2007… 16,080
2006… 16,834
2005… 14,929

I’m going to take a longer look, but I bet this is one of the more solid programs at the gate.