Those of you who have been following the MAC for a long time (and especially those of you who have been around for a LOOOOOOOONG time, back to the 1970s) know that there is bad blood between Miami and Marshall. Most recently, this was exhibited after the controversial end of the 2002 game in Huntington that saw Marshall win and then-Miami assistant Jon Wauford punch a Marshall fan and lose his job.
The Thundering Herd and the RedHawks renew their series tomorrow with a game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the first time in nine years. So what should Miami and MAC fans expect?
The Team Personality
Marshall had a high-powered, exciting offense last year--one that would certainly qualify for #MACtion status, and would perhaps have been the best in the league. The Herd averaged roughly 40 points a game and scored in bunches. Unfortunately, they had a low-powered, exciting-for-the-other-team defense last year, giving up 43 points a game. It's a cliche to say that in order to win, you have to outscore the other team, but Marshall has to outscore the other team. Expect the Herd to play with the handcuffs "taken off," as offensive coordinator Bill Legg put it before last season.
Doc Holliday came to Marshall with an ace reputation as a recruiter at schools such as NC State, Florida, and West Virginia. And since coming to Marshall, he's proven to be a great recruiter as a head coach too. Among others, Marshall has raked in better classes than perennial national title darkhorse Boise State and well-respected BYU. And his recruiting has paid dividends: Marshall is definitely a better program under Holliday than it was under Mark Snyder, although some are beginning to wonder whether Holliday has plateaued at a 6-6/7-5 level, as though he were a future member of the ACC Wheel of Derp.
Marshall returns quaterback Rakeem Cato, leading wide receiver Tommy Shuler, the three top running backs, and eight-count-'em-eight linemen from last year's high-powered offense. If the RedHawks turn in a defensive performance like last year, this one could get ugly quickly. But Miami's defensive injury bug from last year did have an upside: a whole lot of underclassmen got playing experience, which should redound to the RedHawks' benefit here.
On defense, Marshall appears (at least on paper) to be quite weak. They're a very young, work-in-progress kind of team, with a new defensive coordinator to go along with a raft of freshmen and sophomores. Inside linebacker Jermaine Holmes figures to be the defensive star, after recording numerous TFLs against the run last year. But he appears to be perhaps the only strong link in what may be one of the weakest defensive chains in the country, unless new DC Chuck Heater has helped the program turn the corner in a big way. (Which he may well do; I'm not discounting his abilities here.)
The Bottom Line
I expect Marshall to win this game, something along the lines of 30-17 or so. The RedHawks figure to have a considerably better defense than last year, but return a comparatively untested offense. Marshall, on the other hand, brings a terrible defense on paper to go with an outstanding offense on paper. I don't expect this game to be a runaway, but I do think the Herd's offense gets the better of the RedHawks' defense, and Miami's inexperienced offense is unable to capitalize as much as it should.