Inside Marshall Sports

My .02 on the now-dead Capital Classic

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I may be squandering all my column material for the Monday throwdown, but it may get stale between now and Sunday/Monday a.m.:

  1. Dan D’Antoni won’t apologize for his jab at WVU/Bob Huggins last year, but …  He’ll tell you his younger brother is more measured in his comments. Dan doesn’t have much of a filter, but what are you going to do? Fire him at 68? But after 40 years away from the MU athletic program, he needed to get a good lay of the land before poking Huggins. Now it stands as another instance of Marshall committing a PR blunder and WVU pouncing on it. (Hey to Dan Angel.)
  2. It’s Huggins’ world, and WVU officials merely live in it. He got the Capital Classic moved to December (some on both sides say that was good, though) and got next year’s game scrubbed. If you think that’s not the case, reply to this and show your work. I expect The Bowtie to remain silent on this matter … after all, he hopes the coach doesn’t fire him.
  3. New WVU AD Shane Lyons’ work is on hold. I can draw no other conclusion from this quote: “While we recognize there are fans who want to see the game return, our focus right now is on the Oklahoma State game this Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Coliseum, and the remaining Big 12 schedule in the coming months.” Most ADs have 2 functions at basketball games: (1) Shake hands with important people and (b) watch the game like the rest of us.
  4. 6 WVU nonconference opponents have RPIs lower than that of Marshall. Hey to Northern Kentucky, Stetson, Bethune-Cookman, Kennesaw State, Louisiana-Monroe and Eastern Kentucky. With comments that Marshall does not help WVU’s strength of schedule, I expect this to be rectified next season. That starts with bringing somebody better than Western Carolina (202) to the Civic Center. Good luck getting 11K to that one.
  5. MU will do fine without this game, thank you: That was the headline on my column of August 29, 2011, of which the link has regrettably dropped. (The mysterious Highbeam.com has it, if you really want to buck up for that service.) With the folks up north playing the role of sore winner, I urged MU athletic officials to sever all ties with WVU and deal with people who treat them better.

That is easily one of my favorite columns, and it still rings true 3 1/2 years later. Time to move on, MU.

Grades for St. Pete Bowl

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OFFENSE: C
Going 11 of 17 on 3rd down and scoring just 16 points is some sort of dark comedy. And the 1 turnover was a glorified arm-throw punt, there were no stupid penalties on offense. 1 of 6 TDs in the red zone, 5 drives of 10 or more plays eating up about 27 minutes and scoring 9 points. … Trust me, UConn’s defense is pretty good, but dang…

DEFENSE: A
I’m not remotely interested in dissent on this grade.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Amareto Curraj blasted a few touchbacks, Tyler Williams blasted a punt 61 yards and Deandre Reaves set up the Herd’s only TD. Any questions?

QUARTERBACKING: B
You could do worse than 23 of 34 for 218 yards. A tweeter told me Allen was open on that bomb that got picked, and that was about 150 yards away from me, but I still think that’s on Allen. He was matched up against a very, very good CB. Litton carried himself pretty well in his backyard, and I haven’t always seen that from Herd athletes. … And how about Michael Birdsong picking up 4 first downs in a special package?

COACHING: B-
That time mismanagement at the end of the first half drags this down. This grade is all about defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and strength coach Scott Sinclair. Defense was lights-out and the team finished strong against a big, bruising team. Give those two the finest courtesy cars. (The Birdsong wrinkle was pretty damn good, too.)

OVERALL: A
3 straight 10-win seasons for the Thundering Herd, the first time since 1997-99 that has happened. Won a grind-it-out game against a grind-it-out team from the “evil” AAC.

All-C-USA teams and the near future

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The big one: Marshall has some recruitin’ and developin’ to do.

As detailed in Wednesday morning’s Gazette-Mail, the Herd’s first-team representation fell from 10 to 3. The representation on the first two teams slipped from 12 to 8.

It’s not a shameful situation, as 2014 really was a banner year in Marshall football (and 2 great 2014 Herd players suffered season-ending injuries). But when you look around, you know that (a) the Herd is not quite the bully on the block and (b) almost all the Herd honorees are seniors. Only second-teamer Michael Selby is a junior.

The honorable mention count did rise from 5 to 7, with 4 underclassmen. All must lead and all must step up their games for 2016.

Following is a look at the All-C-USA honorees who are underclassmen, listed by team:

MARSHALL
OL Michael Selby, jr. (2nd)
TE Ryan Yuracheck, so. (HM)
DB Tiquan Lang, jr. (HM)
DB Corey Tindal, jr. (HM)
DL Gary Thompson, Jr. (HM)

WESTERN KENTUCKY
OL Forrest Lamp, (1st)
WR Taywan Taylor, (1st)
RB Anthony Wales, jr. (2nd)
KR Kyle Towner, so. (2nd)
WR Nicholas Norris, jr. (HM)
LB T.J. McCullom, so. (HM)
LS Nolan Dowling, jr. (HM)

SOUTHERN MISS
OL Cameron Tom, jr. (1st)
QB Nick Mullens, jr. (2nd)
RB Ito Smith, so. (2nd)
WR Casey Martin, so. (HM)
DL Dylan Bradley, jr. (HM)
DB D’Nerius Antoine, jr. (HM)

LOUISIANA TECH
WR Trent Taylor, jr. (1st)
DB Xavier Woods, jr. (1st)
OL Darrell Brown, jr. (2nd)
K Jonathan Barnes, so. (2nd)
OL David Mahaffey, jr. (HM)
WR Carlos Henderson, so. (HM)
DL Jaylon Ferguson, fr. (HM)
KR Carlos Henderson, so. (HM)
LS Darrell Travis, so. (HM)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE
WR Richie James, fr. (1st)
DB Jeremy Cutrer, jr. (2nd)
QB Brent Stockstill, fr. (HM)
OL Maurquice Shakir, jr. (HM)
LS Williams Eads, jr. (HM)

OLD DOMINION
RB Ray Lawry, so. (2nd)
WR Zach Pascal, jr. (2nd)
LB T.J. Ricks, jr. (2nd)

FLORIDA ATLANTIC
DL Trey Hendrickson, jr. (1st)
P Dalton Schomp, jr. (1st)
LB Ocie Rose, fr. (HM)
DB Jalen Young, fr. (HM)

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
OL Michael Montrero, jr. (2nd)
LB Anthony Wint, so. (2nd)
TE Jonnu Smith, jr. (HM, only because of injury)

CHARLOTTE
RB Kalif Phillips, jr. (2nd)
DL Larry Ogunjobi, jr. (2nd)

NORTH TEXAS
OL Kaydon Kirby, jr. (HM)

TEXAS-EL PASO
RB Aaron Jones, jr. (HM)
OL Will Hernandez, so. (HM)
TE Hayden Plinke, jr. (HM)
DL Nick Usher, jr. (HM)
LB Alvin Jones, so. (HM)
K Jay Mattox, jr. (HM)
P Alan Luna, so. (HM)

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO
RB Jarveon Williams, jr. (HM)
WR Kerry Thomas, jr. (HM)
DL Marcus Davenport, so. (HM)
DB Michael Egwuagu, jr. (HM)

RICE 
WR Zach Wright, jr. (HM)
LB Alex Lyons jr. (HM)

A final note: Marshall had just 1 player on the All-Freshman Team, DE Ryan Bee. But I chalk that up as much to the Herd not needing to play a lot of freshmen an anything. Tidbit: of the 13 MU players on those teams since 2012, 5 left the program early.

 

Grades for the Western Kentucky game

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OFFENSE: F
Rushed for minus-4 yards in the 1st half, 31 for game, only 5 first downs in first half. Most 1st-down plays gained 1 yard or less, or finished with some other disaster. WKU’s defense is better, but Herd made those guys look dominant for much of the 1st half. I think the Herd OL can use the bowl break well.

DEFENSE: F
Tough to get off the field when you’re giving up 25 first downs in a half.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Deandre Reaves worked his magic on kickoff returns again, and kicking coverage teams were pretty solid. Deducting for Antavis’ Rowe’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a punt and Nick Smith’s missed FG.

QUARTERBACKING: F
2 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles and a number of misfired passes. Chase Litton’s 32-yard TD pass to Justin Hunt was a great result of a broken play, but the score was 41-14 at the time

COACHING: F
Minor beefs include a tardy abandonment of the run and nothing creative on first-down offensive plays early in the game. Add in the choice to defer at the coin toss against the league’s best offense. Major beef: You have 13 days before this game and your team starts flat. What’s with that?

OVERALL: F
Losing to WKU is nothing to be ashamed of. The Hilltoppers are a nice, nice team and a great addition to Conference USA. But to start the biggest game of the year in a slumber like that? Are you kidding me? Marshall has something to prove in the bowl game.

Of Big Red and a big football game

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So what will be better in Friday’s Marshall-Western Kentucky game: The game or a battle of the mascots?

For the latter to be an even match, MU would have to bring Dr. Allen Young, the greatest Marco of them all from the 1980s, out of retirement. No Marco has carried the man’s hooves since.

If you are going to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and you don’t know about Big Red, you’ll wonder “what the heck”? That’s why you need this primer on the lovable red blob. I’ve long had a mascot crush on this … uh … object.

But it’s all about the game, and this is the most compelling regular-season game for the Thundering Herd in years. I’m thinking this is the first time MU is playing its third winner-take-all game for a division title. (Ohio 1997, East Carolina 2013, both U butt-kickings.)

Rest assured, this WKU team will get more than one first down. Both teams had 37 in that defensive dumpster fire of a 67-66 game last year.

This may be the 80th time I’ve mentioned this, but this is a classic Marshall offense the Herd is facing. Brandon Doughty isn’t as smart as Chad Pennington (who is?) and doesn’t have the arm strength of Byron Leftwich (who does?), but he runs that offense like a maestro. Good, veteran line, running backs, more receivers than you can comfortably defend … It’s the Herd in red, with chrome helmets.

So think of those MU offenses and how they baffled everyone and tell me: How do you game plan for that?

Much of the Herd’s problem in the first half last year, I believe, was simply the shock of it all. Those defenders had not seen an offense like that, with that much diversity and so many weapons, in their career. Halftime was the MU defense’s best friend, and you saw things settle down after that.

As much as I love Marshall’s defense, Doughty and Co. will get theirs. Holding the Hilltoppers under 35 points qualifies as a winning effort by the defense and will be noted as such.

A field goal is a victory, a stop is an opportunity and a three-and-out is a turnover after which your offense must score. The Tops are quite efficient in the red zone, where the Herd defense has been dynamite.

The big worry for Herd fans is offensive consistency. WKU scored three short-field TDs in that first half last year, and I figure it will get one or two such opportunities this time around. The Herd’s red-zone issues may resurface, and I can see a long drive or two ending up with a field-goal attempt.

As good as Chase Litton is and probably will be, he will endure some “hard knocks” moments. WKU’s defense is much improved as I outlined this morning, and MU’s offensive line will be stressed. Wonderful Terry, Branden Leston and others are capable of scoring a defensive TD on any play, or simply adding to the Hilltoppers’ 23 takeaways.

Fear No. 1 for the Herd: WKU gets ball to start the game (which probably happens), scores a touchdown, MU goes 3-and-out, WKU scores another TD.

Fear No. 2: This could be a repeat of the Ohio game, where the Herd’s offensive difficulties eventually take a toll on the defense. Every 3-and-out, every red-zone field goal plays into Doughty’s hands.

I’m seeing the latter scenario play out. I’ll tell you this: If the Herd wins, Chase Litton probably becomes one bad dude in the process.

Gambling degenerates, skip the line and the over-under, for there are too many possibilities. But I’m going to call it:

Western Kentucky 44, Marshall 23

 

 

 

 

 

Bowl considerations (updated 11/24)

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The grudge match with Western Kentucky is the No. 1 issue in the Marshall world. The bowl destination and opponent is No. 2.

We’ll deal with the latter here.

The conventional wisdom, I am told, is the Herd is headed to the Miami Beach Bowl (Dec. 21) or the St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec. 26). I don’t see that as 100 percent, but well over 75 percent.

I am advocating the Herd play an American Athletic Conference team or, in a near-impossible scenario, one from the Mountain West. Not as hip on the Heart of Dallas, though the opponent will be more appetizing that Illinois last year (I think). I think only 3 bowls are possible, unless something strange happens.

There are 4 good C-USA entrants, the ones who are playing in the league “semifinals” this week — Louisiana Tech, Southern Mississippi, Western Kentucky and Marshall. Middle Tennessee (reported off to the Bahamas Bowl, per ESPN) is the 5th team at a probable 7-5. Old Dominion, who I expect to beat an emotion-spent Florida Atlantic team in Norfolk, should be No. 6.

That means C-USA is vacating 1 bowl spot, maybe 2.

My thoughts:

  1. Marshall is NOT going to the Bahamas Bowl: As ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Middle Tennessee is accepting a bid to that game. Good. If MTSU has a decent fan base, I have yet to see it, so the Bahamas is the best fit.
  2. Go west, Old Dominion: If ODU becomes eligible at 6-6, the Monarchs should be heading west to the New Mexico or the new Arizona Bowl. ESPN Events (C-USA’s top bowl TV partner) runs the NM game; the American Sports Network is airing the Arizona along with CampusInsiders.com. As you’ll recall, ASN is C-USA’s stopgap TV partner during the regular season.
  3. If WKU or Marshall wins the league, this should be simple: Send them to St. Pete and Miami Beach vs. the AAC.
  4. What about Louisiana Tech/Southern Miss? If the West doesn’t win the league title, there are 2 great fits — La. Tech vs. Arkansas State (the probable Sun Belt champ) in New Orleans and Southern Miss playing Heart of Dallas (LT played in the HOD last year). The Big 12 will not fill its HOD spot, so it could/should be filled by a surplus Pac-12 team such as California (please no surplus MAC team). … I project La. Tech to New Orleans to give HOD a fresh team, though the geographic consideration may dictate otherwise (see comments).
  5. But what if LT/USM win the league title? C-USA has given its champ the choice in the post-Liberty Bowl era the first option, though it’s not automatic. What if the West-based champ wants a shot at a Florida bowl? And would you pit a champion La. Tech against the Sun Belt in New Orleans? Hmmmmm …
  6. If South Florida wins the AAC and Toledo does not win the MAC, does the C-USA champ (if from East) play in a big-boy bowl? Wouldn’t that be a hoot! But beware of the College Football Playoff Committee (aka Condi and the Boys) opting for a 3-loss MWC team.
  7. How would the (embarrassing) infusion of 5-7 teams affect any of this? Nobody seems to know for sure, as this article outlines. I project 78-80 teams to win 6 or more; 80 avoids this mess.

Sooo … How will the AAC teams be distributed? Which teams go to Florida?

At this minute, I am operating under the assumption Houston wins the league and takes the Group of 5’s “access” spot. But Navy and Temple are worthy contenders, and USF is looking really good. (Anybody see what the Bulls did to Cincinnati?)

I project 8 eligible AAC teams to cover 7 bowls, but that becomes 8 bowls with the access spot. 7 are currently eligible with Tulsa needing a win.

The AAC does have two games vs. “Power 5,” Birmingham (vs. SEC) and Military (ACC). Navy is the team for the latter UNLESS the Midshipmen win the league and go to big bowl. In that event, Temple makes a great geographic fit and should go to Annapolis.

You’d be surprised to know the AAC has sent its fourth-place team to Birmingham the last two seasons.

(Here is a point to remember: Conferences play a role in all this, as does TV. C-USA pools revenues and expenses, so travel and ticket sales are factors.)

On the AAC side, let’s call it this way: There is a 5-team pool to fill St. Pete, Miami, Military, Birmingham and Hawaii. (As I understand the AAC site’s description, those five bowls have a higher status than Boca Raton and Orlando-based Cure.) Those 5 teams are Temple, South Florida, Houston, Navy and Memphis. Cincinnati would make a 6th team (I expect the Bearcats to knock out East Carolina this week.)

USF hasn’t been a bowl since 2010. Temple hasn’t been to one since 2011. Memphis played at Miami Beach last season. Cautiously, I am going to stick with Houston as the league champ and pick WKU to win C-USA. (I’m making Marshall show me something Friday.)

Here’s how I look at it, as of midday Tuesday:

  • Southern Miss at Heart of Dallas, if against Pac-12
  • La. Tech vs. Arkansas State at New Orleans
  • Middle Tennessee vs. MAC at Bahamas Bowl
  • Old Dominion vs. MWC at Arizona Bowl
  • Marshall vs. South Florida at St. Pete
  • WKU vs. Temple at Miami Beach
  • Navy to Military
  • Memphis to Birmingham
  • Cincinnati to Hawaii

So … am I out of my mind on any of this? Probably.

But at least I didn’t project Marshall vs. Akron in the Bahamas. Sheesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grades for FIU game

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OFFENSE: A
5 of 6 TDs in red zone, 5 of 9 on 3rd downs, rushed for 289 yards. Funny thing: The Herd didn’t pass for 200 yards and didn’t have a 100-yard rusher. But 7.1 yards a play is brutally efficient, and Tyler Williams punting only twice was welcome.

DEFENSE: A
Gave up 2 yards rushing at halftime, held Alex McGough to 98 passing yards. Forced 4 3-and-outs and stopped Panthers on downs in 4 plays. Barely gave up 200 total yards. Should I go on?

SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Deandre Reaves returns a punt for a TD. Herd kicks to Richard Leonard and makes him look ordinary. Good enough for me.

QUARTERBACKING: A
Chase Litton went 16 of 23, threw 3 TDs and here’s what I liked most: He rushed for 11 yards on a third-and-4 to keep a TD drive alive. Good work.

COACHING:  A
Just seeing if you’re awake. Kept team’s focus after tough loss and through plane crash anniversary and Senior Day.

OVERALL: A
Took an improved FIU team and made it look like the pitiful 2013 FIU team.

My call on the FIU game

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One thing for certain: This is not the 2013 Florida International team, a 1-11 catastrophe that came after the surprise firing of Mario Cristobal.

Coach Ron Turner has purged what he needed to purge, recruited a good quarterback and continued to tap into all that Florida speed. I’m not sure what the ceiling is, but this program is better.

My biggest question is whether tight end Jonnu Smith will play. My hunch: He won’t. With Smith out, QB Alex McGough has leaned on Clinton Taylor, who has become the Panthers’ top receiver. He was a part-time starter in 2013, a reserve last year.

Alex Gardner can keep the Herd more than honest. He rushed for 104, but 56 of those came in the first quarter as the Panthers took a 7-0 lead. The Herd kind of figured it all out. But keep one thing in mind: Jarquez Samuel is probably out (my guess based on how he looked last week when he was helped off the field).

Herd DBs should tackle better than they did last week at Middle Tennessee — you could joke that they couldn’t tackle worse. More than in previous years, you’ve got to limit the damage. Giving up 20 double-digit plays is no way to live.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the still-dark side of FIU. The Panthers lost to FAU, putting them in the situation where they must either beat the Herd or Western Kentucky to become bowl eligible. How did FAU do it? In part because the Owls ran for 229 yards on 49 carries.

Yes, the Herd can run right at these guys, just like it has done the previous 2 games. If I remember correctly, FIU was one team that didn’t stack the box trying to stop Devon Johnson last year. If the Panthers load up the box, the quick passing game should defuse that strategy. (Chucking it deep on Richard Leonard and that secondary is not advisable.) DE Mike Wakefield sits out the first half for targeting.

So … Marshall runs for 250, passes for 225 and the defense plays *nasty* after springing a leak last week. Throw in the home field, those black unis and the Herd will do quite fine.

Can it score 40 on the Panthers as it did the last 2 years? Perhaps, but it isn’t necessary.

Marshall 34, FIU 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARSHALL 34, FIU 20

Grades for Middle Tennessee game

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OFFENSE: D+
Phil Steele has a yards-per-point index. In the last two games, the Herd has piled up 1,145 total yards and has 58 points to show for it. The YPP is 19.7, which I recall is not very efficient … and that’s overtime-enhanced. Red-zone only 3 TDs out of 6 trips. Didn’t really wake up until 4th quarter. Struggled against run at times. 515 total yards, mostly wasted.

DEFENSE: C-
Forcing 3 turnovers in the 1st half was great, but you knew that feeling couldn’t last forever. Stockstill and Co. diced these guys up but only scored 2 TDs in 6 red-zone trips. Giving up 17 points in regulation is a winning effort, but … dang.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F
I have a vote for the Lou Groza Award. Nick Smith is not getting it.

QUARTERBACKING: C
Litton made mistakes and couldn’t connect on that throw to the end zone in 3rd OT, but I get the feeling he deserved better.

COACHING: D
So what was Doc doing when he ordered a field goal down 17-10 with 4:32 left? Luckily, that decision became irrelevant. Coaches knew MTSU would throw a bunch of new wrinkles and, indeed, the Blue Raiders did so. So, yes, this was a coaching defeat … except the strength program nearly picked off another win. Strong 4th quarters aren’t always accidents, you know.

OVERALL: D
This wasn’t an effort to flunk and, frankly, kicking let the Herd down. But I can’t go higher than this. Western Kentucky will love this game video.

Last thoughts on Middle Tennessee game

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As Marshall’s streak of being favored comes to a screeching halt, I guess I am making a call for the upset. I’m not sure when the last time I was confident of the Herd in an underdog role, but here we go.

Middle Tennessee will run well at times, but the Blue Raiders don’t have Jordan Parker, Jeremiah Bryson and probably Shane Tucker. QB Brent Stockstill might throw for 300.

But he might take 50 passes to do it (see: Southern Miss’ Nick Mullins). I don’t see Marshall’s defense magically going flat on the road … remember, it played 3-plus very good quarters at Ohio, even. Look for 2 takeaways, if not more, and less than 35% on third-down conversions.

The Herd may be going back inside with the passing attack, as the Blue Raiders must play without safety Kevin Byard. As good as the Raiders’ linebackers are, I don’t see them covering Deandre Reaves and Ryan Yurachek.

The Raiders’ defense is not that good, as Marshall has gained 1,037 total yards in the last two games in this rivalry. The Herd might get close to half that, and that will suffice.

Take the Herd and the points, but skip betting the over-under.

Marshall 34, MTSU 24