Grades for C-USA championship

December 7, 2014 by Doug Smock


Could be lower, considering the 3 turnovers and scoring only one touchdown in the first 58 minutes. Rushing was mostly throttled, managing 121 yards on 35 carries. Rakeem Cato struggled mightily early on. But that winning drive looked easy, as the Herd faced one third down, a third-and-3.


90 total yards in the second half is all you need to know. Another stat: When not saddled with a short field, this unit was scary good — the Bulldogs ran for 87 of their 196 yards on those short-field TD drives.


I’m going to deduct only one-plus letter for that blocked punt and the goofy turnover because of what else happened: Justin Haig hit 40, 46 and 40 FGs after not even trying one past 39 all season. Constantly gained field position on the punt game, had a punt downed at the 1. More positive than negative, though it could have easily gone the other way.


Cato had lot of trouble in the first half, when he was just 9 of 20, but rebounded. The interception was not his fault in the least, nor were the two turnovers. But that end-of-game drive — and completing that 9-yard pass on third-and-9 to finish the game — that was money.


Give all credit to Chuck Heater for keeping that defense together through what could have been 3 deflating touchdown runs. And give long-term credit for this team not panicking when there were plenty of chances to do so.


This may be low, considering the ultimate result. This game probably shouldn’t have been so in doubt, but Louisiana Tech does have an opportunistic defense. This team has had three straight tough games, so you can grouse about that. But remember, this program hasn’t accomplished this in 12 years.



My take on MU’s bowl picture

December 6, 2014 by Doug Smock

Good game-morning, all …

I have finally taken a breath and thought about Marshall’s place in the bowl picture, assuming Boise State wins the Mountain West Championship as expected.

After some reflection and a dose of selfishness, I say about this: Louisiana Tech can have the Heart of Dallas Bowl, no matter who wins the C-USA championship today. The fine folks there can make it to and from Dallas for the game at 11 a.m. Central on the 26th. For you and me, it’s the lousiest day on the calendar.

Besides, do you want to see Rutgers? The Scarlet G’Nites may be 7-5 overall, but 3-5 within the Big Ten. (Yes, they’re a Big Ten team. We’ve got to somehow deal with it.) I’m not crazy about playing a sub-.500-in-league team, I don’t care if that league is a Power 5..

Considering the Herd is not going to Hawaii, period (or so I hear) and UTEP is going to New Mexico (though I’d love to see the Herd play a Mountain West Conference member for once), it looks like some more MACtion. Ugh.

Unless that MACtion involves Northern Illinois. The Huskies are league champions and looked pretty good Friday night.

The one thing the bowl system is lacking is a good ol’ mano y mano, all-league-champion bout like the Liberty Bowl was a few years back. Yes, Marshall and Northern Illinois would excite me. Marshall and any other MAC team? No.

A few other things I wouldn’t mind: Florida seems to be a free agent of sorts at 6-5, but the Gators were 4-4 in the league. (I know, that includes Vandy and Kentucky. Work with me here.) If you can somehow swap the Gators into the Heart of Dallas instead of Illinois or Rutgers, I’d take it.)

Here’s another one I wouldn’t mind: Louisiana-Lafayette, who finished behind the bowl-ineligible Georgia Southern Eagles in the Sun Belt, is playing in the New Orleans Bowl. The Mountain West projects to be a spot short and likely would vacate that bowl. December 20 works for me, and I guarantee you this is the one of the better bowl atmosphere in the pre-New Year’s schedule. I mean game atmosphere, not just Rue Bourbon.

If my preferred matchup of MU-NIU pans out, the question is in which bowl: Boca Raton or Bahamas?

Yes, the Bahamas sounds exotic, but really? A 15,000-seat soccer stadium that you need a passport for a game on the 24th, you make the call. Me, I’m all in on Boca on the 23rd, both on location and date.

I dare the conference commissioners to have the intestinal fortitude to put that matchup together.

Marshall. Northern Illinois. Boca. The 23rd. Unless the Herd backs into the Peach Bowl, this is the best idea on the table.

Do it.






Grades for WKU debacle

November 28, 2014 by Doug Smock


4 turnovers led to 28 points,but this unit still played more than well enough to win. 59 pts in regulation, 708 yards and you lose?


No explanation needed.


For downing a ball at the 1. No other factor.



Cato almost bailed himself out, but he will tell you he had a bad game.


Heater had no adjustments, no answer. Ghost of Rippon appeared.


Unbeaten dashed in unbelievable fashion.


Grades for UAB game

November 22, 2014 by Doug Smock


Gained 515 total yards, but that more than wiped out by 2 holding penalties, a zillion false starts and 2 enormous turnovers killed the scoring punch and put too much stress on the defense.


Simply put, it won the game. Scored go-ahead touchdown, then turned in a manly stop to win the game. Gave up 205 rushing yards, but just 346 total. Clamped down on J.J. Nelson, allowing him just 10 yards receiving and 10 yards rushing. Gave up 18 points.

Biggest defensive effort of the year when it was needed the most.


Tyler Williams’ punt downed at the 1-inch line singlehandedly lifts this game from the depths.


Cato struggled with the wind at times, going just 20 of 38. He failed to account for the “Jack” linebacker, leading to that critical interception. Did run well then the opportunity came up, no doubt.


I’m wanting to give this a lower grade, but there is this: This team did not panic. Never does … and that’s what make this team so different.


Damn it was ugly, wasn’t it? You’d think the 18th-ranked team shouldn’t have to sweat this one out, but UAB has athletes. And it was a road game. At Legion Field. Take this and run.




Grades for Rice game

November 15, 2014 by Doug Smock

One early drive bogged down and ended in a field goal, but that is long forgotten. 581 total yards, almost evenly split between run and pass, 12 of 16 on third down (!). One turnover, on a bad Cato pass (other was on special teams).

Barely 100 total yards after 3 quarters, 3 of 12 on third down, long run 10 yards, long pass 18 yards … What more can you expect?

Docked a letter for the turnovers, when the ball hit Rodney Allen on the leg. One kickoff out of bounds. All else good.

Have to take a letter off for grim interception. Cato never got his feet set, and took responsibility immediately. Otherwise, he was masterful and got some stats (297 yards, 4 TDs) to prove it.

I think the coaching staff had this game circled a little harder than anybody else in the Herd camp.

Best game since rump-kicking of East Carolina last year.

Grades for Southern Miss game

November 8, 2014 by Doug Smock

No turnovers, 335 rushing yards, efficient passing game, 63 points. Any questions?

This team is going to pay for giving up big rushing yardage at start of games, but the unit recovered. Southern Miss made first 3 3rd-downs, then went 0-for-10. 300 total yards, 6 sacks.

Deandre Reaves’ 58- and 32-yard returns and Tyler Williams’ excellent punt out of the end zone saves this grade. Good kickoff coverage, too. But you should never give up onside kicks, even when the opponent springs a surprise.

Cato won’t wow Heisman voters with his 186-passing-yard performance — except this one. Let’s put it this way: When he made a change in plans (running, etc.), Southern Miss had no answer.

The onside kicks must become a point of emphasis, but the O-line coaching continues to be spectacular. The front 5 took a pretty good defensive front — with a future NFLer — and made it look very human.

Another dominating performance, but must have a better start against Rice. Owls have won 6 in a row.

Last thoughts before Southern Miss game

November 7, 2014 by Doug Smock

Hello, Herd fans!

This may be the last trip to Southern Miss in some time, as the Golden Eagles have been shipped to the West Division in the aftermath of realignment. If you haven’t been down here, you’ve missed something.

I’ve always compared this school and Hattiesburg to MU and Huntington. The budgets are close, the fan bases are comparable, loyal and vocal, there is unnecessary whining when attendance does not completely fill the stadium, there is a nice tradition. Having Brett Favre and Ray Guy as the reigning legends is not bad.

I’ve bumped into a few Herd fans who go to New Orleans for a night or two, then drive to Hattiesburg (2 hours tops). You can also go to Biloxi, which has the Gulf of Mexico, good seafood and lots o’ gambling. That city is still recovering from Katrina, even though it was 9 years ago. (Katrina pounded the Mississippi coast as badly as you can imagine.)

“The Rock,” as the M.M. Stadium is called, has had its trouble with weather. It’s 75 miles inland, but Katrina belted Hattiesburg and messed up a stadium project. In early 2013, a tornado ran down Hardy Street, the main  east-west drag which fronts campus, and wreaked all sorts of havoc. That’s part of the reason Marshall will play on something called Matrix Turf — the old turf suffered damage from debris.

As for the game, don’t panic if/when Southern Miss hits a few long passes. Running-wise, the Eagles won’t fare well. If the Herd can get to the quarterback a few times, the rushing total might not be far above zero.

I’d love to see how Devon Johnson walks off the team plane, but I won’t be able to. Somehow, he’ll be good enough to run for 100, I figure. But it may not be a coincidence that Brandon Byrd and Tony Pittman got a lot of contact work during the bye week. Whatever the case, I see the Herd gaining 450-500 total yards instead of 600-plus, but that will be plenty enough.

If Cole Weeks starts, remember this: He will be starting his 2nd game, but is a 5th-year senior. Still, the Herd defense should haze him nicely.

Conference USA is a better league when Southern Miss and Marshall are really good, but you only get half that today. It’s a good half for Herd fans, as their team wins 48-10.

If you’re down here this weekend, good move. I’ve only made it to Charlotte at this point (2 p.m.), but the sun looks really nice.


My Group of 5 rankings, 11/4

November 4, 2014 by Doug Smock

Before the Star Chamber weighs in:


  1. Marshall (8-0, 4-0) — All those butt-kickings have to be worth something, right? (Schedule: at Southern Miss, Rice, at UAB, Western Kentucky)
  2. Colorado State (8-1, 4-1) — Remember, Rams need Boise State to lose (Schedule: Hawaii, New Mexico, at Air Force)
  3. Boise State (6-2, 3-1) — Stronger finishing schedule than Rams (at New Mexico, San Diego State, at Wyoming, Utah State)
  4. East Carolina (6-2, 3-1) — A bad loss, indeed, but Pirates (or whoever wins American) aren’t dead. (Schedule: at Cincinnati, Tulane, at Tulsa, UCF)
  5. Georgia Southern (7-2, 6-0) — Honest, these guys are pillaging the Sun Belt (Schedule: at Texas State, at Navy, La.-Monroe)
  6. Houston (5-3, 3-1) — I guess. (Schedule: Bye, Tulane, Tulsa, at SMU, at Cincinnati)
  7. Louisiana Tech (6-3, 5-0) — After doing to WKU what Marshall will do, I am lifting my embargo on Bulldogs (Schedule: Bye, at UAB, at Old Dominion, Rice)
  8. MAC team TBD — Not that anybody impresses me here; just a note to say I haven’t forgotten That Other Conference.

23. Marshall
RV. Colorado State

22. Marshall
RV. Colorado State
RV. Boise State
RV. East Carolina

CBS 1-128
18. Marshall
25. Colorado State
34. Boise State
35. East Carolina
40. Air Force
41. Northern Illinois
42. Utah State
43. Nevada
46. Georgia Southern

RV. Marshall
RV. Colorado State
RV. East Carolina


My group of 5 rankings, 10/28

October 28, 2014 by Doug Smock

Before the Gang of 12 weighs in tonight, here we go:


East Carolina (6-1, 3-0) — One thing you can agree with: The Pirates are vulnerable.
Marshall (8-0, 4-0) — You couldn’t time these siestas any better.
Colorado State (7-1, 3-1) — Toughest game left: at Air Force, Nov. 28.
Boise State (6-2, 4-1) — Hammered BYU 55-30; I jumped them a spot.
Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) — UConn, off date, Tulsa, SMU on deck.
Georgia Southern (6-2, 5-0) — Still the real surprise of the season.
Houston (4-3, 2-1) — Plays Cincy Dec. 4, schedule blah beforehand.

21. East Carolina
23. Marshall
RV. Colorado State

19. East Carolina
23. Marshall
RV. Colorado State
RV. Boise State

CBS 1-128
19. Marshall
22. East Carolina
26. Colorado State
36. Boise State
40. Central Florida
50. Utah State
51. Nevada

22. East Carolina
RV. Marshall
RV. Colorado State

Grades for FAU game

October 25, 2014 by Doug Smock


Tough to get this grade when your top back breaks the school record with 272 rushing yards, but there it is. At times Devon Johnson carried this unit on his broad shoulders.


When this unit got the hang of FAU’s up-tempo offense, it was good. In the red zone, as good as you can ask. In the second half, a shutout with a big red-zone stop. All in all, I liked it.


Only Tyler Williams’ rocket leg saves the kicking units from flunking.


Somebody should make an Eric Frohnapfel “Fathead” and put it up in Rakeem Cato’s apartment. Considering FAU’s corners, the ball went deep too many times. On the other hand, at least one of Johnson’s long runs was a check at the line.


That the defense was as unprepared for an up-tempo attack is surprising, and this team is falling into a pattern of slow starts. Good news: Halftime adjustments on both sides were pretty darned good.alfH


FAU is better than it has shown, and I figured as much. But this Herd team was one running back from a loss.