Marshall football: Herd begins final preparations for No. 11 Mountaineers
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- This week will be a busy one for the Marshall University football team. It's the first week of classes, so Thundering Herd players will still rise early, but they'll be headed to lectures rather than the film room.
And there's also the matter of them preparing for what could be Marshall's final showdown with West Virginia University.
"It's the No. 11 team in the country and it's also our rival," defensive end Alex Bazzie said. "For us to start off the season like that ... what a great test and what a great way to start off our season. What a great challenge to see how camp has paid off."
The Herd is happy to stop pounding on each other, as they have since preseason camp began. Now the team's focus turns toward the Mountaineers, a team it's never beaten in a series that will at least go on hiatus after this season. The stakes are high, but Coach Doc Holliday said the players can't become consumed with the hype surrounding the game and lose focus on the game itself.
"They've worked their tail off and they've spent hours and hours and have had a lot invested since January to get to this point," Holliday said. "So let's make sure we stay focused and do everything under our power to make sure we're a good football team when we get on the bus on Friday."
Marshall dealt with several changes and new faces throughout the preseason. Freshman running backs Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler sprinted their way up the depth chart with their speed and ability to escape tackles. The defense faced the most changes. Gone is defensive end Vinny Curry, the 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. Jeremiah Taylor has switched to the other side of the defense to step into Curry's role as the Herd's primary pass rusher, while Bazzie and Ra'Shawde Myers are battling for the starting rush end spot.
Three transfers vaulted to the top of the depth chart in the secondary - safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha from Boston College and cornerback Derrick Thomas from Penn State. That's a lot of volatility for a unit tasked with corralling one of the most explosive offenses in college football, one that dropped 70 points against Clemson in their record-setting Orange Bowl win.
But Bazzie said despite all that movement, the defense has remained close. Newcomers have had no fear coming to veterans for advice and the vets are happy offer whatever information they can.
"You've got that chemistry going where a lot of guys are helping each other out, helping the younger guys or newer guys understand the position more, and that makes things so much better," Bazzie said. "Now you have everyone on the same page."
And the entire team is united in its mission of scoring that first win in the series. And if this is the Herd's last shot, Butler said they'd love to score the upset at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"We've never beaten them, but it'd be a good thing if we could go out there and beat them," he said. "It would make our program that much better - and maybe get some credit around here.
"We don't get that much credit, but that's all right," Butler added. "We're going to take it."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.