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From here, MU won't face super defenses

ORLANDO, Fla. - The good thing about this weekend is this: Noah's Ark now comes equipped with not one, but two wireless routers, thus ensuring I could send the following string of loosely organized thoughts.While the folks back home were suffering sunburn in the local pumpkin patch Saturday, Orlando turned into one large lake. Most Central Florida fans chose not to hydroplane across the city to see their team grind out a 16-6 win over Marshall.The more I scanned the thinning gallery at Bright House Networks Stadium, I more I was thinking how good the crowd at the West Virginia-Bowling Green game really was. Memo to Dana Holgorsen: Not everybody can be "Iron Man" all the time.This city of mouse ears and tollbooths received 6.16 inches of rain Saturday, by the official National Weather Service count. Radar indicates the rain was stronger to the northeast, where the UCF campus sits.A few Orlando residents I heard from, including UCF coach George O'Leary, had trouble remembering an unrelenting rain quite like that - even from tropical storms."I've been in football for a long time, and I've never been involved in a game where it rained like it did," O'Leary said.Marshall had similar weather in the season opener, but it involved a lot of lightning and a lot of sitting around."The last one at West Virginia wasn't too damn dry," joked Herd coach Doc Holliday. "It seems like this is the year of the wet game. Hopefully, we're through with this for now, because those conditions out there are not conducive to [good play]."I'm not sure what the rest of the season has in store meteorologically, but I'm sure of this: The much-discussed first half of the schedule is in the rear-view mirror, and Marshall has survived.A record of 2-4 is not ideal, but it's a game ahead of where I pegged this team before the season. For a few nervous Herd fans, it's two games ahead. And I'm sure a few Herd fans would have accepted a split of the Southern Mississippi/UCF double a couple of months ago.Here's another point of optimism: This team is 5-1 against the point spread.Coach Doc Holliday doesn't give an owl-in-the-pressbox hoot about that, but I do, and here's why: (a) over a number of games, you get an unbiasedmeasure of expectation from people who carry no attachment to any program, and (b) Mark Snyder's Herd teams couldn't beat the spread five times in two seasons. I'll add a (c) here: It gives me confidence that Marshall can go 4-2 or better the rest of the season, thus landing in a bowl game. Before the season, I looked at a split of the final six games after a 1-5 start, for a 4-8 record.Here's another factor that should perk up Herd fans: There isn't a strong defense left on the schedule. No West Virginia, no Virginia Tech, no Louisville and certainly no UCF remaining.
The really fearsome obstacle is Houston's 10-yard-a-minute offense, led by Case Keenum. The No. 25 Cougars' defense limited East Carolina to three points on Saturday, but it still ranks 71st in total yardage allowed.Then again, it's the Steel Curtain compared to Marshall's other five remaining foes.In descending order, those teams are ranked 98th, 110th, 116th, 117th and 118th. Stunningly Memphis is in the middle of that pecking order, ahead of this week's MU foe, Rice, and Alabama-Birmingham.That's good news for a Marshall offense that could use a pick-me-up and a dry football.The Herd gained 130 total yards and six first downs Saturday, an eerie throwback to the 1970s. It went 2-of-14 on third down, in part because its median distance was 7 yards. In fact, the Herd faced third-and-7 five times.
I could pick at a few things on that side of the ball. I thought the Herd functioned best in the swing-and-screen passing game, giving its backs the ball in more open spaces. The traditional running game had no chance, as the rain really favored O'Leary's defense.
The run gets a much better chance, beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday against Rice. Tron Martinez has impressed me, and could bust out for a few three-digit games down the stretch. Travon Van has not convinced me he's the No. 2 back.Defensively, Omar Brown is my MVP to this point, though Vinny Curry tried his best to turn the UCF game. It's not always great to have your free safety rack up 18 tackles as Brown did Saturday, but he has been much more than the last line of defense.Brown forced his third fumble and intercepted his second pass against UCF, essentially saving 14 points. Of his 66 tackles, 41 have been solo, and he has been the surest tackler on the squad.Herd fans hope Brown and Curry won't be on the field 40 minutes again this season, and I don't think that will be the case. Look for a big defensive play to flip a game.And look for the offense to look a lot better in the season's second half.
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  • The ever-growing paranoia in college football alternately annoys and amuses me.I'm not talking about injury information, a nagging, aching issue that crosses all sports. I'm talking about ticket sales.Weekly, we run a capsule with certain game information, including ticket availability. We aim to get a handle on what type of crowd might be expected, and inform fans on whether they can get tickets at the gate.In another era - say, 2010 - I could get a good count. It's not usually a factor at Marshall, but Tennessee once admitted it had a certain number of tickets at the gate. Just an example of the "good old days."Conference realignment probably has schools scared to show their hand, even though bare metal on game day is never a secret. UCF was a notable offender this week, refusing to do more than confirm that, yes, tickets are available.As you know, those folks would sell their soul to get in a "BCS AQ" conference. UCF officials would happily send an "urgent" e-mail touting a sellout, but doesn't want to admit it can't sell out their 45,323-seat stadium against a conference opponent.The "official" figure of 24,750 may have consisted of the non-students who bought a ticket plus students who did show up. Crunching numbers in my head, I figure the good-weather crowd would have been 35,000-38,000 - not bad, but not shiny enough to impress the Big East or Big 12.A few weeks ago, Marshall wasn't eager to admit it wasn't going to sell out the Virginia Tech game. Really, the crowd of 34,424 against the Hokies wasn't the end of the world, but it did underline why MU is a passenger, not a driver, in the current realignment scene.But is that the end of the world? Of course, not.
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  • After Louisiana State's punter had a splendid touchdown taken away, I'll say it again: Ditch the taunting rules. Unless the guy spikes it off an opponent's head, forget about the whole thing.Perhaps the call against Brad Wing was easy to make within the rules, but there is going to be a farcical call that flips the result of a game. And when it happens, I'll be happy to remind you of that prediction.Yes, I'll spike the football, proverbially.
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