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October 24, 2013

Inside Look: Marshall

1. What kind of crowd do you expect Herd fans to bring to Murfreesboro Thursday night? Do you think the weekday kickoff will have a positive or negative effect here?

I would have expected a very strong showing of Herd fans had this game not been moved from Saturday to Thursday for the Fox Sports 1 television broadcast. There are quite a few Marshall Alumni in Western Kentucky and Lexington area. The Big Green Scholarship Foundation is hosting a tailgate prior to the game so they must feel confident that there will be a respectable number of Kelly green-clad fans in the stadium tonight.

2. Marshall's defense is much improved this year, what do you attribute that to?

Two things, an influx of talent and the hiring of Chuck Heater as Defensive Coordinator. At least ten RS freshmen and sophomores are seeing significant minutes in the rotation on defense. The speed and athleticism is drastically improved. Heater's system is more aggressive and simpler than the prior scheme employed by the Herd. The kids are able to play the game instead of having to think, and proof is in the numbers.

The Herd Defense has gone from the bottom 10 in just about every national defensive statistical category in 2012 to the top 30 in 2013. We were all expecting improvement but not quite this drastic. A fraction of that improvement can be attributed to the easier schedule this year, but the improvement is undeniable.

3. Who are some players on both sides of the ball that MT fans should keep an eye on?

On offense, it starts with Jr. QB Rakeem Cato, the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2012. He has thrown for 1,572 yards this season with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. In two and a half seasons at the helm, Cato has thrown for 7,832 yards and 64 touchdowns. Senior Essray Taliaferro has got the majority of carries at running back this season but keep an eye out for RS So. Kevin Grooms, C-USA Freshman of the Year in 2012. His carries have been limited this season due to a slow recovery from a high-ankle sprain in August. When he is 100 percent, he is one of the best in C-USA. Junior Tommy Shuler and Seniors Gator Hoskins and Devon Smith are names at WR and TE to watch for. Shuler and Hoskins are sure handed targets that Cato looks for when protection breaks down and short yardage is needed. Hoskins has only 11 receptions this season, but five of those are for touchdowns. Devon Smith returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown at FAU.

On Defense, keep an eye out for Jr. linebacker Neville Hewitt, who transferred to Marshall from Georgia Military and has 42 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2013. Senior DE Alex Bazzie is another one to watch in the front seven. He is an active pass rusher and plays the run very well. Redshirt freshmen Corey Tindal and A.J. Leggett are names to remember in the defensive backfield.

4. What do you think the Blue Raiders will need to do if they want to win this game?

Feed off the "Black Out" atmosphere and get pressure on the QB to force turnovers. Contain the running game, bracket the inside receivers- Shuler and Hoskins, and force Cato to throw to the outside receivers. Offensively, the Blue Raiders need to sustain scoring drives that eat a lot of clock. Cato and the Herd offense are at their best in shootouts. Offensive coordinator Bill Legg has no problem calling 90 plays a game if he has to.

5. What are your expectations for the game? Feel free to give a prediction.

If you ask any Herd fan on the message boards to pick a trap game in 2013, this would be the one. People have talked about this game since it came out on the schedule as being a big challenge for the Herd. I personally feel that this game is the crux of their season. A loss in Murfreesboro isn't the end of the world, but if the Herd wants to get to where they want to be, they need to win tough road games like this. A win here and the schedule sets up for a strong second half run. The next four opponents after MT have combined for five wins this season. The Herd could realistically be 9-2 going into the Black Friday game against East Carolina at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

There is a lot at stake tonight for both teams and the Herd has been historically shaky on the road under Holliday. However, I feel the Herd gets the job done and sneaks out of town with a 34-27 win tonight.



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