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MU vs. Miami: Veterans fuel teams with title aspirations

August 31, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Video sessions for a season-opening football opponent are generally difficult because of changes in personnel and tendencies from one season to the next.

That is one thing Marshall University’s team isn’t having too much issue with as it prepares for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. battle with Miami (Ohio) at Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio. Both teams feature many of the same pieces from 2017, especially on offense.

Marshall knows what personnel the RedHawks bring to the table and Miami knows who the Thundering Herd is running with.

Miami returns 19 starters from last season — eight on offense, eight on defense and three on special teams. The Herd returns 18 starters including nine on offense and nine on defense.

Levi Brown, Marshall’s veteran center said there haven’t been too many cat-and-mouse games with number switches, so it has been easy to spot familiar defensive players from last year’s 31-26 Herd win over the RedHawks in Huntington.

“They return almost everybody, and the good thing is, from what we can tell on the roster so far, no one has changed numbers,” Brown said. “We can see the same guys and know their tendencies a little bit better. There’s no confusion this year.”

It makes for an interesting dynamic that matches two teams who have high aspirations for 2018 based on their returning experience.

Marshall is expected to be in the mix in Conference USA’s East Division, along with defending champion Florida

Atlantic, while Miami is expected to battle with Ohio for the Mid-American Conference’s East Division crown.

Miami head coach Chuck Martin said the matchup gives both teams a barometer of where they are.

“Obviously, playing Marshall right off the bat we’ll get a pretty good idea of some of the good, some of the bad, some of the average stuff that we have to work on moving forward,” Martin said. “I know our kids are excited and our coaches are excited. It should be one of the better first (game) matchups around.”

For Miami, the most notable returnees are quarterback Gus Ragland, wide receiver James Gardner, running back Kenny Young and the entire offensive line.

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said with Miami being such a veteran team, poise is going to be critical for the Herd.

“They are going to make some plays,” Holliday said. “You line up with Gardner, Ragland and those two tailbacks (Young and Alonzo Smith) ... they are going to make those plays. You have to play great defense and tackle extremely well.”

In a matchup of two similar teams in veteran makeup, Marshall may have a slight edge going in.

With new Marshall coordinators on offense and defense, the RedHawks likely weren’t able to get as solid of a scouting report as what the Herd has on the RedHawks, who have offensive co-coordinators returning and co-defensive coordinator John Hauser also back.

In-game adjustments could be more extreme for Miami than they will for Marshall, which can cause problems early in a game — especially in the first game of the season.

With veteran players on both teams, the outcome boils down to execution. For Marshall, that includes limiting turnovers — a focal point with a new quarterback stepping in — and avoiding penalties.

COMING SATURDAY

Look for Herd Game Day in a new format Saturday in The Herald-Dispatch with a preview of Marshall’s opener at Miami (Ohio).

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