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2018 MAC Football Preview: Marshall Thundering Herd at Miami RedHawks

Arguably the best MAC game of Week 1 will take place in Oxford on Saturday.

Akron v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Attention to detail.

That was something that the Miami RedHawks lacked in 2017. After a 2016 season that saw the ‘Hawks win six straight games and come up just short against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the St. Petersburg Bowl, everybody was high on the Red and White heading into next season and the team may have been guilty of reading a lot of their own press clippings as they stumbled to a disappointing 5-7 finish last year.

Per Chris Vinel and The Miami Student:

“Last year, I would definitely say, at times, we were worried about the big picture,” Martin said. “We were worried about the result more than we were worried about grinding through to get to the result.”

That lack of focus was evident last season against the Marshall Thundering Herd in the season opener as two kick return touchdowns and a pick-six doomed the RedHawks to a 31-26 loss in Huntington. However, Miami brings back a veteran squad that’s looking to redeem itself in 2018 starting with righting some wrongs against the Herd Saturday.

Gus Ragland has to be on point this Saturday because when he can be highly efficient, especially in the red zone; his 25:1 TD/INT ratio and seven rushing touchdowns in the scoring area can attest to that. James Gardner has proven to be one of the most productive pass-catchers in program history as he is likely to cross the 2,000 yard and 20 touchdown threshold during his career.

The running back room is highly talented with Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young combining for 3,477 yards during their careers, while a healthy Maurice Thomas is a big play waiting to happen. Additionally, Miami returns all five of its starting offensive linemen from 2017 as it looks to add to its 146.9 rushing yards per game average from a season ago.

Defensively, three of the top five tacklers from last season return as Miami is led in the middle by senior linebackers Brad Koenig and Junior McMullen as De’Andre Montgomery returns to his safety spot this season. Safety Josh Allen is another playmaking senior as he led the team with three interceptions in 2017. There is a need to find a great pass rusher up front, so shifting Doug Costin and his team-high five sacks from end to tackle can open up opportunities for Dean Lemon and Pasquale Calcagno off the edge.

In regard to Marshall, the Herd returns 18 starters from last season and should be a strong contender in the C-USA in 2018. The issue will be replacing Chase Litton at QB, and head coach Doc Holliday has stated that he won’t name a starter until gameday. However, the supporting cast around the quarterback will be talented as Marshall had five players named to the Preseason All-C-USA team, highlighted by receiver Tyre Brady (942 receiving yards, eight TDs in 2017) and linebacker Chase Hancock (128 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, seven pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries, and two sacks last season). Also, the Herd brings back over 1,700 rushing yards with the return of Tyler King and Keion Davis.

The fact that this game also serves as Miami’s homecoming add a layer of intrigue in regard to the environment at Yager Stadium on Saturday. However, having your homecoming the first week of the season is odd, as Holliday alluded to on HerdZone.com:

No I haven’t [faced an opponent who was celebrating homecoming the opening week of the season]. I don’t think that has ever happened. I don’t think even back to (my) Hurricane High School days we did that. I have more things to worry about then us being their Homecoming. I don’t know how you pick the Homecoming Queen when she has only been on campus for about a week. I don’t know how they voted on her, nobody knew her. I guess they figured it out with a ballot where you don’t show up. An absentee ballot.

In regards to the actual game, it may end up being one of the better college football games of the whole year. In one corner, you have a Miami team that has something to prove after a disappointing 2017. In the other, you have a Marshall squad that’s loaded and ready to go toe-to-toe with the Florida Atlantic Owls for the C-USA crown. The match-up to watch will be how Marshall’s new QB handles the road environment and a veteran defense. Miami’s offense should have some success in moving the ball, but the defense has to come up big against a new starter. The ‘Hawks will eventually gut out a win 37-31.