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Herd won't forget 2009 meeting with UTEP

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Trevor Vittatoe has 14 career 300-yard passing games.

Impressive, but he also has three career 400-yard games. Not bad.

Those games don't touch the lone 500-yard notch on his belt. That occurred last Nov. 28 against the Marshall Thundering Herd, a 517-yard performance as part of a 52-21 drubbing on a crisp autumn Saturday in El Paso, Texas.  

UTEP (5-3, 2-3) and Marshall (1-6, 0-3) meet again this Saturday and then take a two-year hiatus. The Herd is a 31/2-point favorite, but Vittatoe is back to lead the Miners again.

Vittatoe is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback from Bedford, Texas. He has played in 44 games for UTEP in his four seasons, thrown for 11,531 yards and 90 touchdowns, and could end up in the top 10 or 15 passers in college football history if his numbers stay on course.

"Last year they aired the ball out," Marshall safety Donald Brown said. "We expect that again. They are going to come in here with the same mindset they had last year."

And Vittatoe, if healthy, will be back to test the Herd, although his senior season statistics have declined.

After throwing for at least 3,100 yards in each of his first three seasons at UTEP, Vittatoe has 1,848 with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions this year. That's an average of 231 yards per game, or about 44 fewer than what he threw for a year ago.

Vittatoe's numbers have been nothing more than pedestrian the past two games, both losses. He had 169 yards and three interceptions at UAB, then 102 yards and two more interceptions last week against Tulane.

Vittatoe has battled ankle injuries this season and his primary backup is a run-first, pass-never QB, but Marshall Coach Doc Holliday still expects the UTEP passing game to test the Herd's back four.

"They're a little different offensively than East Carolina," he said. "They take more shots down field, which East Carolina had taken some prior to our game. "They are more of a vertical passing game. They had a rusher a year ago that was almost 1,600 yards, led the conference. (UTEP Coach) Mike (Price) wants to run the football first and take shots down the field.

"They are a little bit differently offensively. You better go into this game stopping the run and not getting the ball thrown over your head against these guys because they are going to take some shots."

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IF VITTATOE is limited, his backup is fellow senior James Thomas, who scored on a quarterback keeper against Marshall last season.

Thomas is 5 feet, 11 inches and 190 pounds. He is 0-for-5 passing, but has 14 carries for 105 yards and 10 receptions for 93 yards.

Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said his team will be prepared for both QBs.

"You look at the down and distance if the other guy comes in," he said of Thomas. "He's probably going to be more mobile. Those tough downs, those third and 3s and third and 6s, those pass-runs that bind you ... you can look at him beating you with his feet rather than his arm."

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UTEP RUNNING back Donald Buckram looks healthy after dealing with knee issues early in the season.

Buckram, a 5-10, 195-pound senior, led the nation with 1,594 yards last season. This year he's gained just 225 yards (56.3 per game) and one touchdown. He has played against Memphis (59 yards), Rice (47), UAB (38) and Tulane (81).

Last week against the Green Wave he averaged 8.1 yards per carry and scored his first touchdown since last year's game against Marshall.

"You watch him from Memphis all the way through," Holliday said. "He was a little tentative against Memphis. You watch him against Tulane last week, he stuck his foot in the ground and got vertical."

Added Rippon: "That No. 3, banged up, that kid is doing a heck of a job rehabbing. He's not there then all of a sudden at Tulane - boom - it's like he's not missed a step."

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UTEP LEADS the all-time series with Marshall 2-1. All games have been decided by 28 points or more.

That could be attributed, in part, to the fact that the road team must travel 1,635 miles and two time zones from one campus to the other.

Holliday remembered making the trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl in 1987 when he was an assistant coach at West Virginia.

"It was Christmas Day and it snowed, believe it or not," he said. "What we should have done was scheduled this game for noon, that way for them it would have been 10 a.m."

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LAST YEAR'S trip to UTEP not only included a 31-point beating, but culminated with Mark Snyder's resignation as head coach less than 24 hours later upon the return to Huntington.

"That was just a crazy trip out there," Marshall center Chad Schofield said. "This year our No. 1 focus is on UTEP. They laid the wood to us last year. We were all in shock. We want to send them home having the feeling we had last year."

Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at http://blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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