HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s graduate assistants have been working some overtime for the last two weeks.
Since Marshall announced its game with Eastern Kentucky on Aug. 18, members of head coach Doc Holliday’s staff have been gathering film on the Colonels as best they can.
It’s a scenario that has been made doubly tough because the Colonels feature a largely new staff behind first-year head coach Walt Wells, who came from the University of Kentucky, where he was a quality control assistant for the Wildcats.
“Always in those first games, there’s a lot of unknowns,” Holliday said. “There’s also a lot more of them playing a team that’s got a new coaching staff. We don’t exactly know what we are getting, but we know their personnel to an extent because we played against them a couple years ago, but that personnel has changed a lot.”
From game clips of players from UCLA and Nevada to film of coaching schematics from previous stops of the new staff and on to the 2018 matchup that Marshall won 32-16 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, there has been plenty of footage dissected in a short two-week period in order to get things ready for Saturday’s 1 p.m. opener at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
And don’t think that EKU’s Wells was going to tip his hand. The Colonels’ depth chart lists three players at quarterback, but none is designated as the starter.
It only adds to the intrigue of Saturday’s matchup.
“We should come out with a decision on Monday or Tuesday that we will keep internally,” Wells said to The Richmond Register. “We will let Marshall find out when we walk out on the field.”
Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert stood firm on Wednesday, saying that the Thundering Herd’s first mission on defense is to stop EKU’s running game.
That is Lambert’s answer any time an opponent’s game plan is brought to the forefront, but that is especially true with the Colonels, who return bruising 250-pound running back Alonzo Booth, who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2019.
“They are going to want to run it, so whoever their quarterback is, they’ve got a big, physical tailback that played for them last year,” Lambert said.
On the other side, Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said his breakdowns included Murray State film to assess defensive coordinator Jake Johnson from a situational perspective while mixing in film of the Colonels in 2019 to get a feel for personnel strengths and also the 2018 matchup between the teams.
It is known as the game within the game, and whichever team is equipped with the most information is generally the team that adjusts the best on the fly.
“That’s all the chess match that goes on, and between-drive adjustments you have to be ready to make,” Cramsey said. “It helps that we have such an experienced offensive line that a lot of those adjustments hopefully can be made on the field with those guys up front who, for the past three years, have seen a little bit of everything.”
Holliday reiterated the importance of Marshall’s experience, which is an area where the team should have an edge on Saturday.
“I think the positive thing for us is that we’ve got a lot of guys, especially up front offensively, who have played a lot of football, so we can make adjustments as we get going in the game,” Holliday said. “And there are going to be some adjustments early on because we’re going to see some things we hadn’t seen.”
Sometimes, however, it also comes down to a common-sense factor.
If there is an unknown right now for Marshall, it is quarterback Grant Wells, who will make his first collegiate appearance at quarterback on Saturday.
Cramsey knows that any opponent that sees eight or nine returning starters to an offense is going to attempt to attack the least experienced piece.
“If I’m them and I’m coming in to play us and I know we’ve got a veteran offensive line and the reigning Conference USA MVP in the backfield, I’m going to put as many guys as I can in that box and see if that receiving corps, who is still a young receiving corps, and the young quarterback can beat you,” Cramsey said. “That’s what I would do if I were them and that’s what we’re prepared to do on our side of the ball.”