CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- D.J. HUNTER richly deserves his honor as a Freshman All-American, as awarded by Sporting News, and it seemingly bodes well for the near future of Marshall football.It does not speak well for the present, however.Let's recap the honor roll for the Thundering Herd: Quarterback Rakeem Cato was named most valuable player in Conference USA, and running back Kevin Grooms is the freshman of the year.Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler were first-team All-Conference USA picks, while receiver Aaron Dobson and tight end Gator Hoskins were second-team picks. Dominick LeGrande was a second-team pick on defense, while three offensive linemen were among the honorable mention picks.Hunter was not on the honorable mention list somehow, but he was one of four Herd players on the All-Freshman team.He started the final 11 games after Herd coaches got smart and shifted him to linebacker, where he immediately became the best at that position despite being undersized. He made 102 tackles, most among freshmen in C-USA, and had an 18-tackleperformance in the season finale against East Carolina.Don't blame him for the defense's troubles, for he often made tackles a long, long way from his position. I cringe at the thought of Hunter not getting on the field, as well as I cringe at the thought of the season without LeGrande and Okechukwu Okorha. Just how bad would MU's defense have been?With all these awards, you've got to ask yourself: Exactly how did Marshall finish 5-7 and sit home for bowl season?
nnNow that I'm warmed up, some other throw-downs: I am tracking a new statistic of sorts, and it's not flattering to the sputtering MU basketball team. It is points per offensive rebound.The idea comes about after watching this Herd team repeatedly botch stickbacks, layups and even dunks over the last two weeks. Saturday night against Coppin State, MU wiped the glass with the Eagles, collecting 20 offensive rebounds. Coppin had only 21 defensive rebounds, which further illustrates the Herd's dominance.Except the Herd wasn't so dominant converting those into points. MU was credited with just 10 second-chance points, about a half-point per offensive board.I am not sure what a good or average number would be, but I know that's not acceptable. It's a large reason this Marshall team is looking so ugly in the last four games.
For the season, Marshall has 131 second-chance points off 159 offensive rebounds, while opponents have scored 98 points off 125 offensive boards. The Herd has a better average (0.82), but I'm thinking that's not great.In the last four games, it's worse - 36 second-chance points on 71 offensive boards, including two off 10 boards against West Virginia. The four foes have scored 44 points off 53 offensive boards, a much-better 0.83 average.Analyze and overanalyze MU's problems to your heart's content, but don't sleep on this nerdy little stat. The message: Herd rebounders can't just be tough on the offensive glass; they must be tough enough to finish. I understand how football has come to this, but the NFL is thinking about removing the kickoff. As I write this, I am mindful of Marshall losing linebacker Evan McKelvey to a season-ending ACL tear, suffered on kickoff coverage.Still, we are on the verge of having the sport's first-ever grid-o-rama with $10 beer. Wow. Perhaps it's the Twitter era, where feedback comes quicker and more furiously than ever, but I sense that the just-concluded Capital Classic gave Marshall fans much more of a bad taste than similar losses in recent years.
There were good reasons. Marshall missed a zillion close-in shots, that season-long malady. Deniz Kilicli, considered an underachiever by some WVU followers, dominated. Robert Goff's kick to Juwan Staten's undercarriage was bush-league. DeAndre Kane lost his cool at game's end - again.A bigger factor might be the game's proximity to the end of that bitterly disappointing football season, in which the Herd started by giving up 69 points to the Mountaineers and ended by scoring 59 and losing at East Carolina.(Scary symmetry here. On Wednesday, MU gave up 69 to WVU in basketball. It also scored 59 and lost.)This MU fan base is down in the mouth, it seems. I received a tweet the day after Wednesday's game from somebody declaring he was giving up on the season.That coming after game No. 9, a full 34 days before the start of C-USA play. On that timeline, Herd fans would have bailed out on the 2012 football season about Aug. 18.It hasn't helped that Marshall has trailed 56.4 percent of the time over the last four games, including 33 minutes, 40 seconds Saturday night against Coppin State. No disrespect to the Eagles ... wait, I am disrespecting the Eagles. The Herd should have clubbed them like a baby seal.But in the interest of positivity - is that me saying that? - I must point out that the Herd won its sixth game of the season Wednesday. If you have forgotten, this program went 6-22 in 2004-05 - that, my friends, was an appropriate year to keep your ticket money in your pocket.But you know what they say: When the going gets tough ... quit! Finally, I stand in defense of West Virginia University's mascot. Why, oh why can't the man hunt a little bear with the school's gun without the citizenry getting its collective lace panties in a knot?As a citizen of West Virginia, I want Jonathan Kimble to hunt with the university's rifle. Furthermore, I want Kimble transported to Kanawha County in a university vehicle, permitted to pick off as many deer as he can stand, and provided with university-paid personnel to help with removal and processing of the remains.All who have had one of those overabundant varmints bounce off the hood of their car should be nodding in agreement. Get off Kimble's back!Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.