Herd looks to repeat road success at Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The parallel hasn't been lost in the Marshall camp: Step back out of conference, take on a BCS-level opponent on the road and see what happens.
It didn't work out too poorly in the Thundering Herd camp last year. Marshall slugged it out on even terms for four quarters, got a late interception and scooted out of Louisville with a 17-13 win.
In a year Marshall needed every win to qualify for a bowl game, that win was huge. But it might have been bigger for the team's psyche - and the win grew in stature when Louisville downed West Virginia and tied for the Big East championship.
So as Marshall takes the field today against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium, players have vowed to take that confidence and use it to negate all advantages enjoyed by the Boilermakers of the beefy Big Ten.
"I think we know how it feels, and what it takes to win a big game on the road," said Herd receiver Aaron Dobson. "Everybody's got their mind right, and it's going to be a great game."
That road confidence and ability to overcome adversity showed through in last week's game at Rice, as the Herd escaped with a double-overtime victory in a 1,200-yard track meet.
Don't expect that when the teams collide at 3:15 p.m. today. Purdue's defense features a sturdy front four with at least two future NFL draft picks, two veteran cornerbacks and a whole corps of, oh, Big Ten-caliber athletes.
That defense will test an offensive line that has protected well enough to allow the Herd to lead the nation in passing yardage (383.5 per game). If the Purdue front four can get a consistent pass rush without blitzing help, the Herd is in a heap of trouble.
Purdue coach Danny Hope expects a tricky scheme, beginning with the Herd's 90-play-per-game tempo. He has expressed a good fortune in having an extra week to prepare at a time most coaches would prefer not to have a bye week.
"They're loaded with talent, a lot of good athletes, a lot of guys we knew in the recruiting process," Hope said. "They are a great passing team, the number one passing team in the nation. They've got a good quarterback, he was a rookie a year ago but he's much more experienced, much more efficient.
"They have the option to pass or run on any given play, and they'll take what the defense gives them. They're balanced in some ways, as far as their master plan goes, but they throw it more than they run it.
"Defensively, they can pressure; they haven't pressured quite as much, but they can pressure."
The Herd's athletes on the defensive side face a challenge after a week of soul-searching. Giving up 647 total yards against Rice was a bigger shock than yielding 655 to West Virginia in the season opener.
Now that defense faces an offensive makeup it may not see the rest of the season, except maybe for Central Florida. With a line that's small by Big Ten standards but still averages 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, the Boilermakers will no doubt want to run more than 50 percent of the time.
Special teams will be an interesting part of the equation, with both teams sporting solid punters - Purdue has the Big Ten's best in Cody Webster and Marshall has a previously unexpected weapon in freshman Tyler Williams.
This is no small matter - Marshall punted five times last year at Louisville, sticking the Cardinals at the 16-yard line, on average.
Could that make a difference today? We'll see.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.