Florida trips mean a homecoming for many MU players
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Conference USA was whirled into a realignment more violent than that before the 2005 season, the substantial number of south Florida natives on the Marshall roster were hoping for a game back home in 2013.
Instead, they got two.
First, Florida International was one of six schools admitted to C-USA in May. As more schools were courted by what was the Big East, C-USA moved in December to admit two more schools, including Florida Atlantic.
This weekend, the Thundering Herd will head to Boca Raton-based FAU for its second game in a row against a new league member. Kickoff at FAU Stadium is 5 p.m. Saturday, with Fox College Sports Atlantic televising.
Eighteen players on the Herd roster hail from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties, with one more just north of that area in Fort Pierce. Those who are traveling are sure to bring more family and friends than their four complimentary tickets will pay for.
"Ticket trading has been in process since the schedule came out," said defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers, whose home is a couple of hours up the coast in Cocoa.
The closest those south Floridians have played in recent years is a forgettable 2011 trip to Central Florida, a 16-6 loss in a heavy rain. Quarterback Rakeem Cato, a freshman then, wants to make a better showing.
"There will be a lot [of friends and family], knowing that we've been doing a great job this year, and also they want to see me play in person," Cato said, "and see how I operate as a player and a man, how I've grown up to become a man and a leader of this team. I'm just excited to play in front of my friends and family."
Weekly offensive line stat sheets are handed out, detailing categories such as number of snaps, assignment rate and success rate, plus one for good old-fashioned knockdowns.
Sacks (yielded) and penalties are also tallied. The Herd gave up five sacks in Saturday's win over Texas-San Antonio, but none of the six linemen were tagged for one.
In fact, the notation was added, "Per coach [Alex] Mirabal, two sacks were given up by the offensive line and were charged to him due to a scheme issue."
No joke. The offensive line coach took the rap.
"Coach told us, even during the game, 'Those sacks are on me,' " said right guard Garrett Scott. " 'You all blocked that exactly how I told you to block that.' I feel like we could have eliminated it by, just by playing ball, you know what I'm saying?
"But Coach said it was on him, we're going to fix it this week. We were watching film and these guys [FAU] are moving a lot up front. We've just got to come in and really listen to what Coach Mirabal is teaching us."
Cato shouldered his share of the responsibility for hitting the Edwards Stadium turf.
"There was a miscommunication between me and the running back [on] picking up the blitz," he said. "It was little things, and everything can be correctable."
The Herd may have caught a break weather-wise when its 34-10 win over UTSA was played in unusually sticky conditions for October. The high temperature Saturday was 85 degrees, with a heat index of upwards of 90.
Which is about what the Herd will face this Saturday in Boca Raton. The low temperature in that coastal city this week will be 73 - all week, every night. The forecast Saturday is for mostly sunny skies and a high of 86.
Some Herd players were rudely reminded of summertime humidity, which they thought had left these parts for the year.
"We needed that. I don't think we played a game like that this year," said tight end Devon Johnson. "Even before I stepped outside, I felt the heat, and we had the AC on all the way down [to the door of the Shewey Building]. I stepped out and I started sweating and sweating. And then after the first two plays, I was already breathing hard, wanting some water.
"On and on, I didn't even notice it anymore, and I'm just glad I got that opportunity to play in weather like that, for this week."
He's not buying it, but you can argue that defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow is undefeated this fall. Hey, he missed two games with his high ankle sprain - the losses to Ohio and Virginia Tech.
The senior returned for the UTSA game and made an impact with three tackles, one for loss. That was one of the Herd's 13 tackles for loss in the game.
He appeared Monday wearing his orthopedic boot, which isn't out of the ordinary. Even if an injured player returns to the field, wearing the boot off the field reduces the weight borne by the foot/ankle region.
But he was ready to shuck it for good.
"I'm in the boot right now, but that's just because I left one of my shoes at home," he said. "I just got cleared to take it off."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.