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Herd's preparation doesn't get any easier

AP Photo
Garrick McGee is in his first season as UAB's coach.

HUNTINGTON - To a man, Marshall players say they have gotten over the novelty of playing in a large stadium before few fans, as they will face again this Saturday.

But here's the tougher part: For the third time in four weeks, the Thundering Herd will have to prepare for a team with a brand new coaching staff. For the offensive players, it's really the fourth week in a row, as Central Florida brought in new defensive coaches.

So for the better part of a month, Herd players have had to disregard almost all memories from playing those Conference USA East Division rivals in 2011.

Yeah, that will test your preparation.

"That's pretty rough. That'll make your head spin every now and then," said offensive lineman Garrett Scott.

The four-week roll call:

  • Southern Mississippi had a new coach in Ellis Johnson, who replaced Larry Fedora. Running the Golden Eagles' defense - and not doing a very good job in a 59-24 loss to the Herd - was former Memphis head coach Tommy West.
  • George O'Leary didn't leave the Central Florida job, but he showed his defensive staff the door after falling to 5-7 in 2011. The new coordinator was Jim Fleming, coming from Mid-American Conference jobs at Kent State and Akron.
  • A change in the guard at Memphis brought in Justin Fuente as the new head coach, with longtime Missouri assistant Barry Odom becoming the defensive coordinator.
  • This week against Alabama-Birmingham, the Herd will see a new staff under head coach Garrick McGee. West was the Blazers' defensive coordinator last year, but the position is now occupied by former Louisville and Arkansas assistant Reggie Johnson.
  • So the Herd (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) has a little more homework ahead before it faces the Blazers (2-7, 1-4) at Legion Field in Birmingham. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. EST, with the game airing on WVAH, Channel 11 in Charleston-Huntington.

    The Herd offense solved Southern Miss quite well, turned in its least productive game of the season against UCF and rebounded to a large degree against Memphis. Three three-and-outs, two sacks and other quarterback hurries and an extended second-half stay on the sidelines kept the Herd to 38 points.

    The Tigers changed most radically, by several accounts, and it wasn't just the change from a 4-3 base to the 3-4. And quarterback Rakeem Cato makes this point: With Marshall's "NASCAR" attack, just about every team on the schedule will try a different wrinkle, one not seen in game video.

    But center Chris Jasperse thinks the task isn't as difficult as it seems, and he expects his unit to handle UAB's new wrinkles again this week.

    "Some of their schemes are different, but they've got the same personnel," he said. "There's not too many different things they can do - either they're going to play a four-man front or a three-man front. After you figure that out, you say, 'What do they do with their linebackers, stacking them or sending them out to cover receivers?' And once you figure that out, you get going and it rolls from there."

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  • Marshall's older players have made the trip to 72,000-seat Legion Field, which includes a bunch of seats never used for a UAB home game. The program's all-time attendance record is 44,669 for a 2003 visit by Southern Miss, but Saturday's game will draw a fraction of that.

    Likely a small fraction, something like the few thousand that greeted the Herd at Rice Stadium in September. That game was a learning experience of sorts for Herd players who haven't been with the program long, those who haven't played games in such silence.

    Okechukwu Okoroha, one of the two safeties who transferred from Boston College, was caught a little off guard at Rice.

    "It was weird, but once you get into the game you don't pay attention anymore to the fans," Okoroha said. "We try to just play for each other, have fun out there, get excited from somebody making a play. That's the kind of mindset we've got to take from here on out - every game's a playoff game from here on out."

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  • Cato was named offensive player of the week in Conference USA, sharing the honor with East Carolina passer Shane Carden. The two will face off in the regular-season finale, Nov. 23 in Greenville, N.C.

    Cato went 34 of 44 for 341 and four touchdowns with no interceptions in Marshall's 38-28 win over Memphis. His final scoring shot was one of the most clutch throws of the season, a 31-yarder to Davonte Allen on fourth-and-6 that repelled Memphis' rally.

    The sophomore from Miami leads the nation in completions (318) and passing yards (3,290) and is fourth in total yardage (3,292) and fifth in touchdown passes (27).

    With three and possibly four games remaining, Cato's passing yardage total already is just 68 yards from the school's top-10 single-season performances, with all but Tony Petersen's 4,902 in 1987 seemingly in reach.

    Carden threw all four of his touchdowns in the first half of the Pirates' 48-28 win over Houston. He finished 31 of 43 for 305 yards.

    Carden is a quick starter. In the first half of his last four games he is 62 of 82 for 780 yards and four touchdowns.

    Other C-USA honorees were UCF defensive end Troy Davis (defense) and Tulane kicker Cairo Santos (special teams). Davis had two sacks and a forced fumble; Santos booted a school-record 57-yard field goal.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com.

     


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