Inside Marshall Sports

24,000? Are you kidding me?

That’s the big guess coming out of MU this evening. There’s some concern that the weather forecast and the Ohio State game are working against the gate.

Please tell me this will be wrong by 6,000 or so. I’m pretty well prepared to say, “See, told ya” about how games should start at 7 p.m. If you don’t buck up and get to the game, you take that away.

Game of the year, gang … time to green up and go.

Herd hoops: At Memphis Jan. 7

OK… If Memphis’ basketball schedule is finally released. So I don’t see much reason why the full Marshall schedule shouldn’t get unloaded Thursday … well, perhaps Marshall is hammering out that 1-for-1 with Louisville. Wait, wrong sport.

So… after reading J. Bogie’s obligatory pat on the MU administration’s back, I can only wonder: Has Marshall been negotiating with Louisville (and other schools) that long? I’m still smelling somethin’ not quite fragrant.

A few words about “Cane-gate”

Saturday morning in Madison, I called Bob Marcum and asked if I could meet him in person. I have obvious, pointed questions about the Miami series and I would much to prefer to pose them face-to-face.

I asked him if he could come to the press box before the game, but he said he could not do that. To be fair, I didn’t settle in until 40 minutes before the game, much later than I prefer to arrive — in terms of actually finding and getting to the press box, Wisconsin is the all-time worst. He seemed to indicate we could meet later in the day.

I do not recall seeing him at all after the game, which sort of surprised me. I often see him near the tunnel to the visiting locker room, and I had hours and hours before my first deadline. He has not called me back since and believe me, he has my number.

On Friday, I did lob a call to the president’s office. Dr. Kopp remembered the discussion of dropping the Miami series, but didn’t say it was his call. Personally, I wish he would have put a halt to it, but shoot, he has a few other things on his plate. He shouldn’t have to babysit the athletic department.

I have a solid statement from Miami that Marshall ended the series. I have, so far, a glaring lack of denial from Marshall. I’m patiently pondering my options, but I can’t leave this issue alone. Stay tuned.

Belated as all get-out, here we go.

OFFENSE: D
This unit passed smartly, even ran a little bit early… but did nothing right in the second half.

DEFENSE: D
If you had told me the Herd holds Wisconsin to 159 rushing, I’d say a victory was possible. Then again, if you told me the Badgers’ backup tight ends would go bonkers, I would have believed that, too. The pass rush was a disappointment, even if Wisconsin has the best O-line in America. Don’t laugh; the red-clad hogs are pretty good.

The secondary missed Ashton Hall more than the offense missed Cody Slate. A *lot* more. Aaron Johnson was Dead Man Tackling in the second half.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Kase Whitehead has been as good a punter as you could ask for, coming out of high school. Another punt bounding sideways inside the 5 — really nice. I am disappointed Craig Ratanamorn isn’t kicking off a little better, and the OB kick that started the collapse goes without further mention.

QUARTERBACKING: D+
You had the feeling Mark Cann would commit some eye-opening gaffes on the big stage. One pick throwing off the back foot, another flipping the formation in his head. He should find the going a lot easier this week, though.

A bigger lesson, in my opinion, can at the end of the half when he snapped the ball at :08 left, then fired a 20-yard pass down the middle. No way that play gets run in six seconds or less, which he needed to do. He needed to go to the sidelines or wing it away (and give Ratanomorn a 65-yard FG, just for the fun of it).

COACHING: C
I give the staff high marks for game plan, really. That team did what it needed to do to begin the game, and things well really, really well for 161/2 minutes. You could say the coaches didn’t adjust well, but I’m not sure it mattered in this game.

I have a few concerns: One, I wonder if Cann needs more work in the two-minute offense (see, first half). Two, I think Paul Nichols needs to really step it up with the corners. It won’t get easier for that bunch this week.

OVERALL: D
You can’t put a smiley face on 51 unanswered points by anybody, whether it’s Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Parkside or the Packers. But if the Herd can learn a few lessons, regroup and beat Memphis, that game will be forgotten. As it should be.

No column for Monday a.m.

We had a little switcheroo this weekend. I wrote a column for Sunday’s paper, so I won’t be writing one for Monday…

Yes, Herd fans should be furious …

At the alleged “old news” that Marshall backed out of the rest of the Miami 2-for-1.

I ask you: If Marshall had “released” that back when it happened, you don’t think it would have shown up in the Charleston papers at the time (considering his relationship with the Daily Mail’s beat writer at the time)?

Without naming names, this is news to at least one other Marshall official. This is why you see the games still listed on the MU Web site.

Combined with the cancellation of the rest of the Tennessee series, Marshall fans have really, really been jerked around. This is a bad, bad pattern that frankly, the high administration must stop.

If there is an upside to this, somebody needs to point it out to me.

Grades from Illinois State game

OFFENSE: C
Rushed for more than 7 yards per carry, hit a few big plays. Give this unit more than 54 plays and you could have had 500 total yards and more points. My beefs: Two turnovers and 1-for-10 in third-down conversions.

DEFENSE: B
As promised, Rick Minter rolled in the players, and they were pretty fresh. It was great to see Albert McClellan get two critical sacks but I would liked to have seen somebody else track down the QB. The 3 screen passes the Redbirds hit (one for a TD got called back) really changed the time-of-possession battle, and kept the game too close for too longh. But that was solved and the rushing defense tightened in the second half. That goal-line stand in the third quarter was big.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
This was a serious butt-kicking. Punt returns set up three short drives, the kickoff returns were big, the kick coverage was generally good, Kase Whitehead punted very well. You have to pick hard to find a fault here.

QUARTERBACKING: B-
Coach Snyder said it best: Mark Cann has practiced better than he played. First few passes were very shaky, including a bad, bad pick in the end zone. But the 88-yarder to Passmore counts for something, right?

COACHING: B
Adjusted to those first-half screens nicely by peeling back the extra blitzers. The challenge is this: Go after the QB on third-and-10 and hold those safety-valve screens to 7 or 8 yards.

My beef: I wanted to see Craig Ratanamorn sent out for a 48-yard field goal. Now, he’s attempting his first college field goal at Wisconsin instead of home. And for what — a pass play where Cann didn’t go to the primary receiver and threw a screen pass toward four unblocked defenders. Yeeowww!

OVERALL: BThere is much to improve, with the Memphis game two weeks away. The first half made Herd fans cringe, until the Cann-to-Passmore bomb. But the season started with a win, and you could really see the players perk up after the game. It beats the last two season openers by a mile and a half.

Illinois State game, the first half…

I will blog a little at TV timeouts in the first half… then I will disappear. For 4:30 games, I have a first-edition story due at the final buzzer, essentially…

Some clouds and haze, but the sun is more or less out there… warm and humid…

So what did you all think of East Carolina dumping the (C)hokies in Charlotte? And I guess Mike Price’s seat got really, really warm at UTEP. … I am informed ECU is the first Conference USA team *ever* to beat two ranked opponents in a row. As you’ll recall, the Pirates took down Boise State last year in the Hawaii Bowl. And it is C-USA’s first win over a ranked BCS school since 2002. And it also means Skip Holtz will go on foreeeeeever in the Conference USA teleconference.

Something I’m following, with the new timing rules: Marshall squeezed off 408 runs and 432 passes last year for 840 plays, an even 70 per game. Opponents had 475 rushes and 396 passes for 871, or 74.4 per game. So that’s 144.4 plays total, not counting penalties that negated plays completely. Let’s see if that number goes down…

Illinois State already has more fans here than half the MAC schools would, back in the day … don’t get too excited it’s about 150.

Back to Conference USA, Rice’s performance Friday night has our full attention. Now we know June Jones has much work to do, and he shouldn’t have given up the Hawaii gig to come to Dallas, but the Owls’ coaching staff finally figured out what a combo it has in Chase Clement to Jarrett Dillard. I think I alluded to that in my C-USA notebook Friday…

The parachustists landed at the 22:00 mark, but didn’t quite make midfield. They did get it on the field away from the bands. Woody Woodrum immediately went into the story about how they rolled in right at the opening kickoff at Fairfield Stadium.

Whoops! Marshall’s ROTC goofed on the color guard. One of the rifle guys went the wrong way completely, and it looked like an end around. The first broken play of the season…

The Hall of Fame introductions are being held… Jim Donnan and J.R. VanHoose get good ovations…

HERD UP 7-0… As expected, you’ll love the defensive pressure. Mario Harvey just missed a sack but Ian Hoskins put Kevin Brockway out for the rest of the series… big Spann punt return and a 16-yard Chubb Small run puts the Herd up.

TIMEOUT Illinois State during drive from its 24 to the Herd 16… Jailbreak screen on third-and-9 really foiled a nice-looking blitz, and the Redbirds are confident in running the ball. Marshall does seem to be rolling in personnel pretty liberally… For instance Janac is in for the next play, with Albert M. out…

END OF FIRST QUARTER…. The 17-play, 76-yard drive “needs to be fixed, but the Herd seems to be running the ball at will. Mark Cann even survived his first run, a 6-yarder after a botched handoff…. Let me guess, a run and maybe a fade route on the next two snaps… First quarter zipped along at about 35 minutes.

Ill State 83, Marshall 66 in total offense. Ill State has owned the ball for more than 11 minutes….

TV TIMEOUT AFTER Mark Cann throws a bad, bad pick. He tried to lob a ball to E.J. Wynn, and Tom Nelson was allllll over it. Bad, bad, bad interception.

Last entry of the day… This defense has to figure out the screen pass… Ill State TD gets wiped out by an illegal block, a real bullet dodged there… so long for today.

Here it is … the 2008 prediction

First thing is, I am refusing to agree with Da Boss, Mitch Vingle. I’m a better predictor, and I believe I have whipped his rear end every year since I defected to the Gazette in 2002. So I’m not picking 5-7.

With that in mind, here goes.

Illinois State — Geno Blow scores an early touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive. That only serves to make Rick Minter’s defense really, really mad. The Redbirds play the price. HERD, 34-14

Wisconsin — Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks. BADGERS, 38-17

Memphis — I side with the fans who want a return to 7 p.m. starts, even if it makes my job a little tougher. This game should provide an example, as the Herd keeps the Tigers’ skill players to a low rumble. HERD, 35-24

Southern Miss — The One That Gets Away, Part I. Damion Fletcher and Golden Eagles stud freshman receiver DeAndre Brown yank this one out at the end. GOLDEN EAGLES, 31-27

West Virginia — No. 5 has a big game on both sides. But only Pat White is running for a Heisman this year. MOUNTAINEERS, 45-31

Cincinnati — The One That Gets Away, Part II. The Bearkitties still have a few stars on defense, and Cann throws one to the wrong team in the end zone on a potential game-winning drive. BEARCATS, 24-20

UAB — Refreshed from a 15-day rest, the Herd wears down pesky but outmanned Blazers before 5,000 at Legion Field. HERD, 38-31

Houston — I still think the Cougars have enough skill players to recover from graduation losses. I think the Cougars will have the most improved defense west of Huntington, and I have a hunch they’ll somehow win the West. But they take a Tuesday night step back, courtesy of a Rat Man field goal at the final gun… HERD, 31-28

East Carolina — Simply put, this game is in Greenville and the entire Pirate Purpledom will arrive in a surly mood. If the Herd wins this game, I really, really will be impressed. PIRATES, 13-10

UCF — If you follow Conference USA, you know you have to pick an upset here and there. This one is an Upset Special for homecoming, possibly over the eventual repeat champs. HERD, 20-14

Rice — At this point, the Herd is 5-5 and feeling good about itself. The Owls will be 4-6 if that much, thanks to its matador defense. But I’m not picking the Herd to win in the state of Texas until it does so for the first time. You know, just like the state of South Carolina back in another era. Call this The One That Gets Away, Part III… OWLS, 45-43

Tulsa — The Herd really needs a pick-me-up in the finale to get into a bowl. The Golden Hurricane will enter with the West title on the line and another 600-yards-a-game average. Looks bad, right? Well, yeah, except for two things: (a) it will be 43 degrees and raining sideways and (b) Tulsa’s 3-3-5 defense won’t be very good. I’m invoking the Siberia factor … HERD, 41-39

So you have a wild, wacky 6-6 season. Good enough for a bowl game, but still frustrating. So what do you say we go to the New Orleans Bowl and just laugh about it all? (Yo Gustav, can you take a left turn to Matamoras? Please?)

So… sit back and enjoy!

Note on the Ridpath case

Marshall University has spent $348,562.32 so far in defending itself in the Ridpath lawsuit. That comes from a Freedom of Information request by Ridpath’s attorney, filed with the state’s Board of Risk Management. A pretty hefty figure, I reckon…

Back to football matters, I have a Conference USA notebook for Friday a.m. … I’ll be offering up my season prediction on the blog either tonight or tomorrow…

A note on the Wisconsin game: It may actually be seen by TV viewers in Madison, after all. The Big Ten Network has reached a deal with Charter up that way… Not that it affects you terribly, but it does increase the number of eyeballs watching for sure…