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Doug Smock: Marshall football loses, but inspires optimism

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Doc Holliday and the Thundering Herd may have lost on Saturday at N.C. State, but Marshall’s overall performance was definitely encouraging.

RALEIGH, N.C. — No, Marshall didn’t finish well in its 37-20 loss to North Carolina State, but the effort over 60 minutes was not at all discouraging.

The Thundering Herd hung in decently with a team whose biggest problem may be membership in the wrong division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. If the Wolfpack were in the Not-Clemson/Louisville Division, I’d like its chances.

And when the Wolfpack plays Clemson and Louisville, make it a point to watch how well those two teams (fail to) block Bradley Chubb.

So just how does the result, and the Herd’s opening win over Miami (Ohio), project over the rest of the season? I’m not going to anoint this MU team a contender just yet, but I do know one thing: This team is a lot more fun to watch than it was in November.

Otherwise, I am making a few semi-educated guesses, including:

n There won’t be a second 1,000-yard receiver, but somebody should come close.

Tyre Brady, already up to 302 after two games, will get his thousand. But N.C. State should be the last team to put a cornerback on a faraway, lonely island against the guy, so things should open up for the other pass-catchers.

Can Willie Johnson or Marcel Williams evolve into a consistent No. 2 man, or will the wealth be shared? Or maybe tight end Ryan Yurachek will get a few more balls, but that’s an ongoing theme.

n I’m not convinced the Herd will be able to run on many teams.

This offensive line may show the most disparity between run blocking and pass protection as any I’ve covered. Take out Keion Davis’ 53-yard run, and Marshall netted just 48 yards on 24 rushing attempts. Chubb dined on MU’s left side, it seemed.

But on passing downs, Chase Litton was sacked only once and not hurried much by N.C. State’s veteran front six. That impresses me as much as anything about this MU team.

n The Herd will not be the most penalized team in the nation again.

Actually, MU wasn’t the most penalized team in the nation last year. It was 127th of 128 teams. As the second half of Saturday’s game indicates, that may not improve much.

The Herd essentially flagged itself out of the game with three fouls, beginning with a back-side holding call on what would have been Keion Davis’ touchdown on a kickoff return. Another hold and a personal foul helped foil a touchdown drive that would have made the game really interesting.

Marshall would have had to gain 110 total yards to finish that drive.

(Remember, those were Conference USA officials. ACC zebras come to Huntington next year.)

n The young Herd defense is in for a season of big plays — for and against.

MU’s defense had 10 tackles for loss in 69 plays, a good ratio against anybody. Chase Hancock and Frankie Hernandez are both playing really well, and Artis Johnson has impressed me from his very first practice back in March.

But the Herd also gave up 15 double-digit plays, including TDs of 24, 39, 34 and 23 yards. Buckle up, for you’ll see more of that.

Side note: Did you notice coaches kept the Brandon Drayton/Malik Gant combo intact in the second half, even when C.J. Reavis became available? That was a show of respect for the youngsters.

n Marshall went scoreless in the second half, but it’s not alone. With one notable exception, nobody else in C-USA is scoring against Power 5 teams.

Western Kentucky scored only a touchdown against Illinois, giving up a “pick-six” touchdown deep in its own end. Mike White was held to 238 passing yards.

Texas-San Antonio downed Baylor in one of C-USA’s two wins over P-5 schools, but that score was 17-10. Louisiana Tech averaged just 3.6 yards per play in its 57-21 loss to Mississippi State.

Middle Tennessee, which lost to Vanderbilt 28-6 a week earlier, went against the trend against Syracuse, overcoming a rash of penalties to win Syracuse 30-23.

▪ ▪ ▪

As somebody pointed out to me, N.C. State will look very different when it returns the trip to Huntington next year.

That defensive line? The four starters will be in the NFL. Not in training camp, mind you, but drawing game checks. You might catch Chubb on Thursday night’s draft coverage, gripping and grinning with Roger Goodell. The two starting linebackers will be gone.

Finley? He’ll be gone. Jaylen Samuels, that beefy tight end/“H” back who got loose on the flea flicker? Gone.

On the Marshall side, Litton and Brady will be seniors, the offensive line will replace one starter and the defense will replace just one starter from Saturday’s game. (Alas, with Marshall’s attrition problems, I have to put an asterisk on that statement.)

That stands to make for an interesting evening at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. That’s a long way down the road, but file that away in your mind.

Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dougsmock and read his blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/dougsmock.

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