Marshall's Tommy Shuler (1) catches a pass in last week's opening win over Miami (Ohio).
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall has room to improve on all sides of the ball tonight, and doing so should allow the Thundering Herd to make quick work of Gardner-Webb. The first order of business at 6:30 tonight is to not let the Runnin' Bulldogs build confidence and stay in the game, like so many Championship Subdivision teams before it - eight FCS teams scalped one of the "big boys" last weekend.This probably isn't a team set up to kneecap an FBS squad - the Bulldogs have scored 18 points in their last three such games while yielding 133.So if Marshall simply out-athletes these foes, winning should not be an issue. But this Herd team must improve in several areas before that Sept. 14 game at Ohio.To the casual fan, improvement might be a minor issue after the Herd throttled Miami (Ohio) 52-14 a week ago. But with 10 to 12 games after tonight, coaches are no doubt taking the short and long views from this game.Some of the items to look at:Getting after the quarterback: Actually, the Herd didn't do a bad job of that, forcing a few off-balance throws against Miami. But getting the quarterback pinned on the ground? Not so much - just once, in fact.
Coordinator Chuck Heater isn't worried, though."Guys get rid of the ball pretty quick these days," Heater said. "We hit him, we were around him, pressured him a number of times. Pressures sometimes are as significant as the actual sacks."The sacks will come in time, in my opinion."
Quarterback getting after it: Rakeem Cato had an outstanding game against Miami, but not every play was outstanding. One play was downright ugly, the one in which he ended up throwing a wild backward pass to Tommy Shuler, which mercifully went out of bounds. Even more mercifully, the officials called it an incomplete pass.
Will Cato continue to refine his run-vs.-pass decisions, or leave that for the Ohio game?"As quarterback, you can't jam it in there [to covered receivers] if it's not there," said offensive coordinator Bill Legg. "You've got to take what the defense gives you and allow your playmakers to make the plays. And his feet are part of the offense, and he's doing a nice job with that."Receivers: Cato hit seven different receivers, which is a little lower than many of his games last year. Two of those were tight ends, one a running back.
So yes, depth at the wide receiver spot is a question that must be answered in the weeks to come. Shawney Kersey's departure this week opens one door at the "X" position, though reserves will audition for snaps, at any position.
Running game: Can the Herd really outdo last year's 304-yard ground performance? With an eight-plus-man rotation on the offensive line and that stable in the backfield and a perceived weaker opponent, why not? Remi Watson will be eager to catch up on his numbers, for sure.Defense, in general: Heater wasn't down on his troops over Miami's two long passes; far from it. But this is a game to prevent missed assignments, and correct the ones that do show up.
"A lot of things we can improve on - we broke a lot of coverages," Heater said. "I liked their approach, their mindset, their competitiveness."That pretty much wraps up the Herd's mission tonight: Beat an upset-minded FCS school, correct mistakes, get ready for bigger missions in the coming weeks. Do that, and the fans will have a good time.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.