Inside Marshall Sports

Finally, the Morgan State game arrives

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Hey Marshall fans!
We are only 8 days away from the Thundering Herd’s opening game.
Oops! Did I give you a heart attack? Yes, that long awaited opener against Morgan State comes at 6 p.m. Saturday, a day from when I wrote this.
Feel better?
But the real opener comes Sept. 17, when the Herd takes on Terry Bowden’s Akron team. That’s when we’ll begin to see what the Marshall team is made of, a week before Louisville comes to town.
The Morgan State game should be for entertainment purposes only, though the Herd will get the supreme jitters and fall behind 7-0. No panicking allowed.
Eventually, the Herd is going to drop the bomb. Those 4 backs, however the coaches use them, will see gaping holes even if the Bears put 7 in the box. If Holy Cross runs for 250+ on those guys, what will the Herd do?
We saw what a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team looks like when Norfolk State comes to town — a linebacker and a safety or 2 could crack the Marshall 2-deep, and 1 or 2 skill guys. Maybe the quarterback, who is usually rendered hopeless by halftime.
An example: MU folks have noticed Morgan nose guard Antoine McCray, and how couldn’t you? The man’s listed at 6-foot-2, 340 pounds and I’m getting he’s a few stones more. A perfect 3-4 nose, right?
I don’t know. I’m betting half the MEAC 300-pounders can’t run a 3-cone drill without falling on their posteriors. He’ll initiate MU center Levi Brown for a few plays, then get pushed around hard on the usual double-team. I know without looking this guy’s not exactly Dontari Poe. (the Kansas City chief via Memphis)
Go for the entertainment, go because you haven’t seen Herd football in forever. Go to see who you like, first or second team.
But don’t read this as a yardstick for the future, near or far. This Morgan State team is better than 2014 Gardner-Webb but not as good as Norfolk State. Which means they’ll get manhandled.

Conference USA notebook, 9/9-10

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First, the best and worst of last week:
Best 3
Southern Mississippi 44, Kentucky 35: When the opposing coach apologizes to his fans, you’ve probably played a heck of a game. Not only did the Golden Eagles scored the final 30 points, they outgained UK 364-0 in the final 30:26.
A complete butt-kicking.
Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20: The Bulldogs missed a huge opportunity to go up 23-14 when Jonathan Barnes doinked the upright from 39 yards. The Razorbacks then drove 77 yards in 13 plays to take a 21-20 lead, and the Bulldogs couldn’t cross midfield. Arkansas ran out the final 3:35.
Still, this Tech team with considerable graduation losses and a suspended QB played valiantly. Best stat: The Bulldogs allowed just 297 total yards.
Western Kentucky 46, Rice 14: Easiest 500-yard game a QB has ever had, but I’m not ripping Mike White here. Nicholas Norris and Taywan Taylor combined for 12 catches and 312 yards. they have another gear.

Worst 3
Louisville 70, Charlotte 14: The Cardinals and QB Lamar Jackson are darn good, but their 56-0 lead is a low for the fledgling 49ers program. Jackson accounted for 405 of the Cardinals’ 462 first-half total yards.
Florida Atlantic 38, Southern Illinois 30: I keep wanting to respect the Owls based on how much of a pain they have been to Marshall in three losses, but this result doesn’t get it.
The Owls didn’t ice this game until Ocie Rose forced a fumble and Aaron Stanton recovered with 1:40 left. Rose is the one who had a long “pick-six” return against MU last year.
Texas-San Antonio 26, Alabama State 13: Truthfully, the Roadrunners weren’t threatened after taking a 20-7 lead 3 minutes into the second half. Former walk-on quarterback Dalton Sturm went 20 of 25 for 274 yards and 2 TDs. Yes, he has edged out the ballyhooed Jared Johnson for the job.
But the Roadrunners had four turnovers in a game that just screams “yuck.”

Non-conference report
C-USA vs. G-5
Southern Methodist 34, North Texas 21
Texas-El Paso 38, New Mexico State 22
Overall: 1-1

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)
Indiana 34, Florida International 13 (near-miss by loosest definition; FIU had ball in Indiana territory down by 7 in 4th quarter)
Overall: 1-3

This week’s offerings, in order of interest:
Middle Tennessee (1-0) at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m., SEC Network: If the Blue Raiders want to be considered favorites of C-USA’s East Division, they might want to win this game or come darned close. Last year, Vandy won 17-13 in Murfreesboro, scoring two touchdowns in the final 6:14.
MTSU laid the lumber on Alabama A&M last week, 55-0. Brent Stockstill went 30 of 36 for 329 yards and 5 TDs in the first half, as the Raiders led 45-0. He completed his first 22.
So can Stockstill and the Raiders compete against a real opponent? And does Nashville really care about them?
Odds: Vanderbilt by 5.5. Take the Blue Raiders and the points.

Old Dominion (1-0) at Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m., ASN: OK, Bobby Wilder, how good are your Monarchs? The first step to impressing the rest of us is to win in Boone, a year after the Mountaineers won 49-0 in Norfolk. Wilder apologized to his team after that debacle.
David Washington went 10 of 18 with 4 TDs vs. Hampton, but was admonished for not sliding on a scramble. The Monarchs need him to master that and a lot of other things.
Odds: Appalachian by 21. Yes, I saw the Mountaineers’ near-miss at Tennessee, but this looks like a lot. Take the Monarchs and the points.

Western Kentucky (1-0) at Alabama, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2: There’s not much to say after the Crimson Tide beat up Southern California 52-6. I don’t have to tell you White won’t threw for 517 yards again.
Hilltopper negative vs. Rice: They averaged just 3.2 yards per rush. That could be 1.2 yards this week.
Odds: Alabama by 29. Roll Tide, roll.

Florida Atlantic at Miami, 6 p.m., ESPN3: Rematch of decent game last year in Boca Raton, in which the teams were tied 20-20 early in the third quarter before the Hurricanes scored the final 24. Last week, the Owls struggled against Southern Illinois, but Jason Driskel was 23 of 31 for 287 yards.
Trey Hendrickson watch: The defensive end had 5 tackles, 2 QB hurries, a sack and a blocked extra point. The defense allowed SIU 530 total yards on 86 snaps.
Odds: Miami by 24.5. Take the Hurricanes.

Maryland at Florida International, 7:30 p.m. Friday, CBS Sports: Terrapins join the parade of Power 5 suckers fishing for Miami-area recruits in one of America’s lamest venues.
FIU had trouble running against Indiana and the passing game had one brain cramp after another. One of Alex McGough’s three picks went for a touchdown, though that one was blamed on a wrong route.
Not sure how physical Maryland will be in Big Ten play, but the Terps will lay a few welts on the Panthers. Can the Panthers respond?
Odds: Maryland by 10.5. Terps will cover late.

UTSA at Colorado State, 6 p.m., Campus Insiders: Not sure what to think after Colorado State got ambushed by Colorado 44-7 last week in Denver. The Rams were outgained 578-225.
The Roadrunners held Alabama State to 102 total yards and freshman LB Joseph Tauaefa had 13 tackles and 2 sacks in his debut, but the price of poker goes up considerably.
Odds: CSU by 10. Looks like a gimme for the home team.

Rice at Army, noon, CBS Sports: The Black Knights rushed for 350 yards and dominated the second half in a 28-14 win over Temple. After getting run ragged by Western Kentucky, the Owls’ secondary will be somewhat pleased that the Knights threw only five times.
Tyler Stehling went 22 of 37 for 183 yards and ran for 85 more, but threw two interceptions. He was victimized by six drops, so expect better numbers.
Odds: Army by 10. On a hunch, I’ll go with the Owls and the points.

UTEP (1-0) at Texas, 7 p.m., Longhorn Network: I’ve seen this act before. The Longhorns have the usual talent advantage (ask Notre Dame), and the weather will compound matters. El Paso is in the desert with the dry heat; humidity in the other side of Texas is notorious.
Yes, it matters. It mattered in 2009, when the Miners lost to the Longhorns 64-7. And this time, Aaron Jones isn’t rushing for the 249 yards he did last week vs. New Mexico State.
Odds: Texas by 28.5. Take the Longhorns in what seems like a gimme.

FCS parade: Elon at Charlotte, Morgan State at Marshall, South Carolina State at Louisiana Tech, Bethune-Cookman at North Texas, Savannah State at Southern Miss.

Conference USA notebook, 8/30

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Hello, Herd fans!
This fall, I am moving my Conference USA notebook to this blog. One thing I like about this, and I’m sure you will, too, is I can abandon a rigid story format, etc. I will inject opinion, observations and all sorts of goodies.
I will rank the games in order of interest, at least for my selfish purposes. I’ll give you the line and which way I would go with it (remember, amusement purposes only).
Away we go:
Rice at Western Kentucky, 8 p.m. Thursday, CBS Sports Network
This may provide some quick answers on (a) whether WKU’s Mike White is up to the challenge of filling Brandon Doughty’s shoes and (b) how much Rice has benefited from the experience of being one of the nation’s youngest teams in 2014.
The Owls have 16 returning starters on offense and defense. Fifth-year seniors Tyler Stehling has waited his turn to be the starting quarterback, and Darik Dillard and Jowan Davis enter the season with more than 1,700 career rushing yards.
(Has there been a Dillard playing for the Owls every year since 2005, or is it just me?)
Any inexperience White may have should be negated by an all-returning interior line, a loaded backfield and receiver Taywan Taylor. The Hilltoppers’ defense is a question mark that was answered last year, but has few starters back.
ODDS: Hilltoppers by 16. Take ‘em, lay the points.

Southern Mississippi at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Jay Hopson is the new coach in Hattiesburg, but he’s in his third stint there. Mark Stoops is in his fourth year at Kentucky, and his seat is simmering. (Why would UK fire a football coach? And why did I just put “UK” and “football” in the same sentence?)
Nick Mullens is starting his fourth year, which includes the last half of the 2013 season. He is rated the eighth QB prospect by, and has 8,605 passing yards and 61 touchdowns. Juicy subplot: New Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, a name West Virginia fans know, was fired by Stoops after last year.
The Golden Eagles are a bit undersized up front relative to UK’s offense, and may have trouble stopping the run in this game. The more they can get Drew Barker to throw it, the better chance they have.
ODDS: Kentucky by 6.5. Out of general disrespect of the Wildcats, take the visitors.

Louisiana Tech at Arkansas, 4 p.m., SEC Network
I just want to see if the Bulldogs score some style points with an inexperienced team. Coach Skip Holtz says his team has good depth, but this young team may need 4-6 weeks to get up to its usual snuff.
Ryan Higgins is Tech’s new starter, but his role is unclear after a DWI arrest earlier in August. Holtz has said Higgins won’t start the game, but hasn’t tipped his hand beyond that. Whoever throws has two nice targets in 5-foot-8 Trent Taylor (99 catches in 2015) and 6-foot-2 true freshman Adrian Hardy.
The Bulldogs are widely picked second in C-USA’s West Division for a reason, but may take some hard knocks in Fayetteville.
ODDS: Arkansas by 26. Take the favorites.

Charlotte at Louisville, 7 p.m. Thursday, ACC RSN Networks
The most interesting aspect is seeing two Marshall opponents face off. Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals are going to run the 49ers out of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, pure and simple.
The 49ers are one of the older teams, by design — as a fourth-year program, they have 26 seniors or so and a lot of fourth-year juniors. That alone puts them in position to pop somebody in the snout, but not the Cardinals.
ODDS: Louisville by 39.5. Take the favorites.

Indiana at Florida International, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU
Are you kidding me? Are Power 5 teams that interested in Miami recruits that they’ll play in that stadium? Of course, calling Indiana a “Power 5 team” might be a stretch, though they did beat WKU last year.
Really, you’re not sure what you’re going to get from either team. The Hoosiers gained 504.3 total yards per game last season, but gave up 509.6. FIU has an offense with a third-year starter and weapons around him, but the production wasn’t that good a year ago (347.8). The Panthers’ defense hasn’t been anything special since they joined C-USA in 2013.
ODDS: Indiana by 8.5. Out of general disrespect, I’d take the favorites.

Southern Methodist at North Texas, 7 p.m. Saturday, ASN
Call this the Dumpster Fire Bowl, as both teams are trying to pull themselves out of the abyss. The Mustangs have the advantage of being in the second year of their reclamation project under Chad Morris; the Mean Green is taking its first steps under Seth Littrell.
Alabama transfer Alec Morris will start at QB for NT, which finished third in ESPN’s Bottom Ten behind Central Florida and Kansas. Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle says the Mean Green has about 68 scholarship players, so depth is a major headache.
And then there’s this: a case of the Zika virus has been reported in Denton. Long autumn ahead.
ODDS: SMU by 9.5. Go against NT until further notice.

New Mexico State at Texas-El Paso, 8 p.m. Saturday, beIN Sports
The Al Jazeera offshoot makes its debut in the desert for the I-10 rivalry. I am hearing the production is excellent, but their knowledge in the booth is a question mark. (No corner kicks, please.)
Just 42 miles apart, These schools are natural rivals because every other football-playing school is hell-and-gone from them. (Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez is close, but plays the other brand of football.)
Running back Aaron Jones is back after a second-game injury ended his season last year. He has 2,341 career yards, and epitomizes coach Sean Kugler’s approach to building the Miners. Fresno State transfer Zach Greenlee is the new starting QB, and the defense is favoring more zone coverage behind a 3-4 front.
ODDS: UTEP by 9.5. The Miners will win, but take the Aggies and the points.

The FCS parade: Southern Illinois at Florida Atlantic, Alabama A&M at Middle Tennessee, Hampton at Old Dominion, Alabama State at Texas-San Antonio.
Note about FAU: 24-game starting left tackle Reggie Bain is out for the season after a car accident last weekend. That will shuffle the line, moving the center to left tackle, the left guard to center with a new left guard.
It’s fortunate the Owls have this game to iron that out before heading down I-95 to Miami.

Items from Saturday’s scrimmage

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Good afternoon, Herd fans!

Marshall held its second scrimmage today, a 1:15 or so affair on a hot, sunny day. Doc said the day was shortened by a lack of special teams drills more than anything. (All but field goals were addressed at length Friday.)

As most of you know, that scrimmage was closed. No stats tallied.

Perhaps the biggest thing that came out of it: Garet Morrell talked to the media for the first time. Coaches are stopping short of declaring him the No. 2 QB, but that seems to be a formality. He ran with the “twos” all day, with Xavier Gaines running the “threes.”

Morrell and receivers are picking up the timing on fade routes, but he has to work on his “happy feet.” As OC Bill Legg says, Morrell ran an offense much like the one Marshall runs, but the checks are much tougher at this level. Freshman stuff, much like Chase Litton went through a year ago.

Players are starting to get itchy to play, and they have an off week to start the season. Writers such as yours truly are already bouncing off the walls.

Morgan State on deck, Sept. 10.


Bazzie ruling the CFL?

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Former MU defensive end Alex Bazzie of the British Columbia Lions has taken the sacks lead in the Canadian Football League with eight in nine games.

Believe it or not, that’s double his career sack total in a Marshall uniform. He had four in his last two seasons, 2012 and 2013.

Bazzie’s latest sack was critical, coming in British Columbia’s 29-23 win over the Ottawa Redblacks. With less than a minute left and the ball at the BC 38-yard line, he threw Trevor Harris for a 7-yard loss. That forced third-and-17 — remember, only three downs in the Great White North — and Harris threw incomplete to seal the issue. The Lions improved to 6-3.

As a sidenote, ex-Herd and Montana running back Travon Van plays for the Redblacks. He had 52 yards on 12 carries Thursday, and caught six passes for 28 yards. Ottawa is 4-4-1, leading the East Division.

On the Rakeem Cato watch, he is still backing up Travis Glenn at Montreal. He is 24 of 31 for 265 yards and a TD for the 3-5 Alouettes.

Herd items, 8/23

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First, the rather large Senior Bowl watch list is out, which includes Marshall’s Gary Thompson and Clint Van Horn. Conference USA has 18 if I counted them right.

Others to know:

Akron — CB DeAndre Scott

Louisville — DT DeAngelo Brown, OLB Devonte Fields, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, TE Cole Hikutni, ILB Keith Kelsey, WR James Quick, WR Jamar Staples, TE Keith Towbridge

Pittsburgh — OT Adam Bisnowaty, ILB Matt Galambos, DT Tyrique Jarrett, G Dorian Johnson, OLB Ejuan Price.

Again, you take watch lists with a grain of whatever, but they do tell you something …

From practice: From Saturday’s scrimmage, coach Doc Holliday says he liked what he saw out of Garet Morrell and Xavier Gaines: “I thought the young quarterbacks are really starting to grow up. Both Morrell and Gaines have made strides.”

Doc has said he wanted to firm up positions by the end of the week, including the field-goal battle. Of the kickers: “I’d like somebody to separate; I’m not sure they have yet.”

Of WR Deon-Tay McManus, who left the scrimmage early and returned in a sling: “He’ll be all right.” No elaboration.

Coming up tonight/Wednesday a.m.: Feature on senior Corey Neely, the safety who has rotated in with the “ones” and is doing nicely.



About camp reports

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Good afternoon, Herd fans everywhere!

A few words about blogs during the next two weeks. Camp Thundering Herd was open during the first two weeks. Now, practice is closed to the public from here on out, and through the season.

Media can attend, and we will generate stories pretty much as usual … but we attend with stipulations. For instance, you can forget about kick-by-kick coverage of the field-goal controv … er, contest. There will not be stats on Saturday’s scrimmage.

This is hardly new, and I’m used to it. We have it better than those covering many other major-college programs, including the land-grant university of this state.

While I’m at it, I’m batting around ideas for my next Monday throwdown. I’m thinking of writing a preseason preview of sorts, but not in the usual manner. I have already picked MU to go 6-2 or 7-1 in conference play, and there isn’t much imagination in picking the Herd to win all but the Louisville, Pittsburgh and Southern Mississippi games.

Two weeks to go before game week. I am going to go nuts.


Herd scrimmage stats 8/20

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Story about the scrimmage for Sunday a.m.; in the Monday throwdown, I will throw out some observations over the past two weeks, maybe some winners and not-so-winners. Stay tuned.

Foster 8-46, Pittman 3-5, Anderson 14-67, 3 TD, Morrell 4- (minus-6), Davis 7-17, TD, Gaines 1-4. Total 37-133, 3.6 average.
Litton 10-19, 95, 2 TD, 1 int; Morrell 13-17, 164, TD; Gaines 2-3, 59 yards, TD. Total 25-39, 318 yards, 4 TDs 1 int.
Yurachek 3-26, 2 TD, Knight 5-52, Davis 1-8, Green 3-55, Elzy 1-24, Brady 1-22, Mathews 5-29, TD, Hunt 3-45, Mitchell 1-4, Rodgers 1-11, Jackson 2-37, TD.
TOTAL OFFENSE: 76 plays, 451 total yards, 5.93 average.
Hancock 7 tackles; Hames 5 tackles; Reavis 5 tackles; Davis 5 tackles; Grimes 4 tackles; Morrow 4 tackles; Gates 4 tackles; M. Gant 1 tackle for loss; Keller 1 tackle for loss; Massaquoi 1 tackle for loss; Johnson 1 sack; Neely 1 interception, TD return; Allen 3 pass break-ups; Reavis 1 pass break-up, Neely 1 pass break-up; Maddox 1 pass break-up; Durant 1 forced fumble.
Anderson 14 run
Neely 21 interception return
Yurachek 7 pass from Litton
Jackson 30 pass from Gaines
Yurachek 5 pass from Litton
Anderson 8 run
Mathews 9 pass from Morrell
Anderson 2 run
Davis 8 run
Smith: 36 missed, 36 missed, 36 good, 36 missed, 36 good, 38 good, 43 good, 4-7 total
Curraj: 36 good, 38 good, 43 missed, 36 good, 46 good, 4-5 total
Pontius: 36 good, 36 good, 36 missed, 41 good, 3-4 total

Camp report, 8/17

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Good evening, Herd fans!

Tonight was the first of four straight 5 p.m. practices, a nod to Marshall’s Week of Welcome celebration for freshmen. Saturday will be a doubleheader, with the 5 p.m. practice a full scrimmage.

Today was an entertaining practice, and the big thing was that there was practice. Without the indoor building, practice would have been scrubbed or shortened.

A lot of observations here:

  • AJ Addison played the first unit at left tackle, a first. Coach Alex Mirabal tells me Addison will go back to backup RT tomorrow, with Fred Binot going back to starting LT … an alternating situation. The rest of the “ones” are the same — Dowrey, Brown, Selby, Van Horn. It just so happens I am cooking up an Addison story. (Sandley Jean-Felix has been out.)
  • Damien Dozier went to strong-side linebacker, continuing is cross-training between end and LB. Dozer had a nice-looking breakup of a pass for Ryan Yurachek. Shawn Petty did not practice.
  • Bad mismatch: Miami transfer WR Tyre Brady vs. CB Dontrell Johnson. Not that Johnson looked bad, but Brady made a couple of super catches. Brady has to run with the “threes” since he has to sit out this season. (He will be All-World on scout team.)
  • No real surprises on starting units. Offense: Litton QB, Foster and others RB, Yurachek/Bird TE, Hunt/Clark X, Knight slot, McManus Y and the line I just named. Defenses: Thompson and Bee DE, One and Harris DT, Durant and Tyler LB (Dozier strong, when used), Allen and Jackson CB (I wrote on them for tonight/Thursday a.m.), Gant and Reavis safety. (Tiquan Lang has practiced this week, but was out today.)
  • Some of you have asked about the race to replace Deandre Reaves on returns, and I give the same answer: It’s wide, wide open. Catching punts today were Foster, Gator Green, Brandon Rodgers, Nick Mathes and Willie Johnson. On kickoffs, Foster, Rodgers, Johnson and Deyton Jackson. Pretty dang good pool.
  • There was no field-goal kicking until the end. I was on the field with a bad angle, Nick Smith missed a 47-yarder wide left and Amareto Curraj was blocked by Jestin Morrow, but all other attempts were good. Again, don’t expect a kicker to be named until late.

That’s it, time to go home. If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them or look for an answer on Thursday. Thanks for reading.

Camp report 8/16

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First off, the Gazette-Mail karma rubbed off on Deon-Tay McManus. On the morning I wrote about him needing more yards per reception the “Z” receiver turned in one of the nicest catches of the month, going high to snag a pass over Rodney Allen. Michael Clark, starting again in place of Justin Hunt at “X,” had a nice catch over Chris Jackson.

As before, Garet Morrell has been working with the “twos” and Xavier Gaines with the “threes.” Morrell seems to have a better grasp on the offense and looks like a good passer, but that will be a subject revisited as the week goes on.

Injury news is limited, but we know WR Willie Jackson was out for the 2nd day in a row. Doc is anxious for him to get back.

Several starters were held out just to keep their pitch count down, LG Jordan Dowrey, RT Clint Van Horn  and DE Gary Thompson among them. RB Hyleck Foster did not go, and we’re not sure what that’s about. Keion Davis went with the “ones.”

Interesting development with the punt returns: Tony Pittman, Gator Green, Nick Mathews and Brandon Rodgers were fielding today. Again, no Foster, so take that with a grain of whatever.

I will not attend this afternoon’s practice, but will be at the 5 p.m. workouts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tonight, I am taking a look at Devontre’a Tyler, and how he might compare to a former Herd LB you know well.