Marshall football: Herd not overlooking FCS foe Gardner-Webb
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When the Marshall football team beat Miami University last week, it reached a milestone the program hadn't seen since 2009. It opened the season with a win.
The last time that happened most of the current roster hadn't yet arrived in Huntington and the handful that had was sitting out a redshirt season.
Another win this weekend versus Gardner-Webb, who visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a 6:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff, and the Thundering Herd does something that hasn't happened since most of the current players were in grade school.
Beating the Runnin' Bulldogs would push Marshall (1-0) to its first 2-0 start since the Herd's undefeated 1999 season. It also would give Marshall consecutive wins for the first time since it closed out the 2011 season with three straight.
"We have a saying," defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said. "We're trying to change the culture around here. A lot of things are going to change around here. I feel good about where we're going and what's going to happen this season."
Taylor and the Herd defense did their best to change recent perceptions of their unit against the RedHawks in Marshall's 52-14 win. The two teams went into halftime tied 14-14, but Miami mustered just 55 yards and zero points in the second half. The offense shook off a slow start of 11 first-quarter yards to bombard Miami 580 yards of total offense, including 304 on the ground.
Gardner-Webb (1-0) is a Football Championship Subdivision team who needed 21 unanswered second-half points to beat fellow FCS foe Furman, 28-21, and open its season victoriously. In Marshall Coach Doc Holliday's eyes, that comeback proves the Runnin' Bulldogs are capable of stunning an opponent. And the seven FCS wins over Football Bowl Subdivision teams has him and the rest of the coaching staff cautioning against a letdown.
"Gardner-Webb has just as good of skill as we saw last Saturday," he said. "They're good at the receiver position and the tailbacks are good players. They have a nose guard on defense that is an NFL guy, so we'll have our work cut out for us. It's going to be all about preparation and if we don't do that this week then we will get beat."
Bulldogs quarterback Lucas Beatty passed for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-31 passing. Both of those scores went to 6-foot-4 receiver Kenny Cook, who finished with nine catches for 113 yards. On the ground, running back Juanne Blount ran for a career-high 162 yards on 28 carries, a 5.8-yard-per-carry clip.
The nose guard is 6-2, 302-pound O.J. Le'iatua Mau, a sophomore who recorded two tackles, assisted on a tackle for loss and recorded a quarterback hurry against Furman. Junior defensive end Shaquille Riddick also could put some pressure on Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato. He had three quarterback pressures, six tackles and a sack against Furman.
The Herd's motivation for this weekend doesn't come just from wanting to stay off the surprisingly long list of FCS conquests in 2013. It wants to, as Taylor said, take another step toward transforming the culture of the football program, to eclipse the five to seven wins notched each year of Holliday's tenure and think bigger.
And if the team thinks - and plays - bigger, then maybe the Huntington community will start thinking bigger, too, receiver Tommy Shuler said. He doesn't want two straight wins to boost just the confidence of the players. He want the fans to continue gaining confidence in the team.
"We need to win to get the place around here jumping," Shuler said, "just get everybody ready to see Marshall every week. I feel like we've got some people, but we don't have everybody. We need another win to keep building on the win and have Huntington here ready to see us play each week, anxious."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.