HUNTINGTON — For the last two-plus weeks, Marshall’s football team has been practicing against itself in an effort to stay sharp until a game week commenced.
While two off weeks are never ideal in the middle of a season, Marshall going against itself in practice situations might not have been a bad play, considering the Herd’s next opponent is Western Kentucky.
There are plenty of similarities between the schematics of Marshall and Western Kentucky that allowed the Herd to get in some advance preparation when Marshall went best-on-best during its practice sessions.
“When I was watching the game a little bit earlier, it kind of reminded me of my offense,” Marshall linebacker Tavante Beckett said. “We’ve seen a lot of it and we’ve practiced against a lot of the stuff they are going to try to do. It’s a familiar thing, so our eyes should be good because we’ve been seeing it with our offense.”
Western Kentucky incorporates a similar versatile style to its offense, which involves reads and plenty of quarterback runs with talented dual threat Tyrrell Pigrome.
The Hilltoppers also feature a rotation of tight ends led by Joshua Simon, who is one of the league’s better tight end targets, and a staunch offensive front that is effective in both the passing and running games.
“It’s very similar to us,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “They’ve got three preseason all-conference guys in one way, shape or form that are back. They’ve got a lot of experience like we do and they do a good job protecting [Pigrome]. They have a good offensive line.”
The similarities don’t stop on the offensive side of the football, either.
Western Kentucky is aggressive defensively, using an athletic defensive front to stymie the opposing attack while getting their safeties — particularly veteran Devon Key — heavily involved in run support.
With the safeties coming up against the run, the Hilltoppers rely on their outside corners to win one-on-one battles to negate big plays in the passing game.
Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Clayton White played at North Carolina State while Holliday was coaching there under Chuck Amato, so he is familiar with what is going to be seen on Saturday.
“He’s very aggressive with what he does,” Holliday said. “He likes to get you in man coverage and load the box up and try to prevent the big plays outside.”
With both sides being aggressive on each side of the football, Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. contest will come down to the team which team executes its game plan the best with the fewest mistakes.
“We have a good understanding of them, as well as they do us, so it’s going to be a fun game,” Holliday said.
Considering Marshall hasn’t played in three weeks, being sharp early in the first road contest of the season is vital for the Herd’s chances at gaining a key win to start the Conference USA season.
Holliday said that, in a season where the following week isn’t guaranteed, Marshall needs to take full advantage of its chance to gain an edge in Conference USA’s East Division.
“You’d better take advantage of every opportunity you get, especially in conference play,” Holliday said. “We get the opportunity on Saturday to go play a team that’s a really good football team, so we’ve got to find a way to come out of there with a win.”