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Doug Smock: Herd win no walk in the park

OXFORD, Ohio — I am reminded of one of the many axioms put forth by that old philosopher, Bob Pruett.

When his Marshall teams were at their apex, he often reminded his loyal fans that opponents would play 25 percent harder against the Thundering Herd than against anybody else. That was especially true when Marshall traveled.

That line was in my head all week, as folks in the MU community were dreaming about scoring 60 for the “beauty contest” thought to be required for the Group of 5’s big-boy-bowl bid. The 42-27 win over Miami on Saturday was a trip back to reality.

The prevailing thought about Miami (Ohio) was simple: The RedHawks entered with a 16-game losing streak, so they weren’t capable of putting up a fight, right?

I’m betting Miami will be better than Florida International. And for roughly 14 minutes of the third quarter Saturday, the RedHawks were simply good. Marshall lost a fumble and quarterback Rakeem Cato couldn’t hit his receivers, but Miami was keeping the ball, wearing the Herd out and scoring 17 unanswered points.

So, yes, it was impressive that the Herd could stop the RedHawks’ momentum, seize it and throw the knockout punch. While the MU defense was wearing out by being on the field too much, running back Devon Johnson was on the sidelines for extended periods. By the fourth quarter, he was fresh.

No defender really wants to deal with a fresh Johnson in the fourth quarter. File that thought away if/when Steward Butler returns and Brandon Byrd also gets worked into the rotation.

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Not that the Herd doesn’t have problems. A partial list:

n Perhaps one should be pleased with four sacks and seven hurries, but the Herd’s pass rush disappeared at times. The four sacks on Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix came in the first, second and fourth quarters, which isn’t a surprise.

n Hold your breath over those secondary injuries. For certain, cornerback Keith Baxter (hamstring) was missed. The Herd isn’t terrible with Corey Tindal opposite Darryl Roberts and Antavis Rowe as the nickel, but the Roberts-Baxter-Tindal trio is much more solid. There was no coincidence that Hendrix went up top the play after safety A.J. Leggett went out with an injury, hitting a 40-yard bomb for the RedHawks’ final TD.

n The Herd did score 21 points after the injury to left tackle Sebastian Johansson, so true freshman A.J. Addison did something right. But make no mistake: Addison is one offseason away from filling out that 6-foot-6 frame, and opponents will try to exploit him.

I harbor the thought of moving Clint Van Horn or Sandley Jean-Felix to the left side, but that’s much easier said than done. Coaches and linemen tell me the footwork is exactly opposite, and I liken it to a quarterback throwing with his other arm. Maybe that’s accurate, maybe not.

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Other observations:

n This MU team was very physical, and it’s contagious. Marshall defenders were pounding ball carriers, but my favorite hit was a block, receiver Angelo Jean-Louis belting defensive tackle Jimmy Rousher. (Of course, Jean-Louis was not seen much the rest of the day, and Craig Wilkins got a couple of catches in his stead.)

n Defensive end Gary Thompson hasn’t disappeared. His stuffing of a jet sweep for a 7-yard loss reminded me of Albert McClellan, and you could nominate that for play of the game. Think about it: Miami had to punt from its 5-yard line, Marshall regained possession at the Miami 49, Johnson scores and the Herd takes a 35-20 lead.

n I love receiver Tommy Shuler’s passion for the game, but he’s got to keep that imaginary penalty flag in his invisible pocket. It is such bad form for a receiver to pop up from every incompletion and lobby the officials for an interference call. Having an opponent goad you into a personal foul isn’t good, either. You’re a senior, Tommy. Act like it.

n Marshall doesn’t emphasize time of possession, but it doesn’t want to run 68 plays to an opponent’s 85 — unless it scores 50 or so. The last time the Herd ran 17 fewer plays in a game was a 73-52 “disadvantage” against Alabama-Birmingham. The Herd pasted the Blazers 56-14, scoring four times from double-digit yardage.

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Marshall could have beaten Miami 80-0 and it wouldn’t be the most impressive victory in Group of 5-dom. That belongs to Western Kentucky and Texas-San Antonio.

Herd fans can circle Nov. 28 on their schedules, for that’s when WKU’s visit could trigger a 100-point game. Under new head coach Jeff Brohm, Brandon Doughty threw for 569 yards and six touchdowns.

UTSA threw an ice bucket on Houston’s stadium dedication, winning 27-7. The Roadrunners, who are not playing Marshall (in the regular season, anyway) held the Cougars to minus-27 yards rushing.

Other eye-opening G-5 results: Louisiana-Monroe 17, Wake Forest 10; Colorado State 31, Colorado 17; and UAB 48, Troy 10. Good result for new UAB coach Bill Clark.

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Speaking of FIU, the hits keep on comin’. The Panthers remain owned by Bethune-Cookman, fumbling the snap on a last-play field goal to lose 14-12.

They did so without the Miami Herald, which graciously carves out room for the 20th banana in a tough sports market. Apparently, the school refused to grant the Herald’s beat writer a spot on the press sofa, and the Herald correctly declared that “the team does not get to choose who covers the program.”

FIU continues to be Conference USA’s black eye.

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Maybe I’ll get used to Marshall’s uniforms over the course of a long season, or maybe I won’t. Regardless, they have shot up my chart of all-time most illegible. I haven’t seen the white version (Miami had one of those annoying “whiteouts”), but the greens should be illegal.

The jerseys became an instant nightmare for the stat crew in Miami’s climate-uncontrolled press box. I kind of like the numbers up close, but they are too small and blend in with the green too much.

Opposing coaches are going to love watching the film on these guys wait, that may not be a bad thing for the Herd, eh?

Maybe bad uniforms really are the new weapon in college football.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette or follow @DougSmock on Twitter.

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