— By Bill Cornwell
A much-anticipated Marshall football season is about to begin.
VMI, a team which Marshall dominated for the better of two decades (1977-1997) during the Herd’s 20-year stay in the Southern Conference, visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Herd has 14 straight wins against the Keydets and an overall 14-5 series lead.
Here are some things to look for in the game.
How many will play?
With Marshall an overwhelming favorite in the contest, there is a chance that 10th-year MU head coach Doc Holliday might be able to go deep into his bench, giving younger and inexperienced players some action.
The ability to create some depth will come in handy as Marshall faces a big road test next Friday at Boise State.
The game could be an opportunity for talented senior backup quarterback Alex Thomson to get some action in relief of starter Isaiah Green. Backup offensive linemen and running backs such as Sheldon Evans could also get a chance to showcase themselves, as well as promising youngsters on defense.
If the Herd can build a big lead, this becomes a game where Holliday can see much more what he has behind his starters.
VMI will take chances
Despite a 1-10 record last season, VMI actually had a good offense. They Keydets “Air Raid” attack was led by junior quarterback Reece Udinski.
If Udinski can escape the attacking Marshall defense with some help from the Keydets offensive line, the visitors could find success through the air.
It will be important for senio receivers Javeon Lara and Rohan Martin to help their quarterback.
Starting running back Alex Ramsey must also be strong in challenging the Herd’s stout defense.
As for VMI’s defense, don’t be surprised to see a lot of blitzes and stacking the box in order to create potential mismatches and throw off Green. Holliday expects the Keydets to throw everything at the Herd and it will be important for Marshall to make adjustments.
Who has the leg up?
Saturday’s game could be a continuation of the fall camp kicking competition between senior Justin Rohrwasser and freshman Shane Ciucci.
Rohrwasser appeared to be a shoo-in to keep his job this fall and may ultimately win it permanently, but Holliday and the coaching staff have been impressed with Ciucci’s leg and accuracy.
There is a possibility Marshall could revert to an arrangement seen in the past with one kicker strictly handling kickoffs.
Robert LeFevre is back to punt this season and the junior improved dramatically last year, meaning he could be pushing for some all-conference honors by the end of the season. The Herd’s return game could be fun to watch, with speedsters like Willie Johnson and Talik Keaton in the spotlight.
The Herd got a fan-fueled boost Thursday night as several players attended the annual Thundering Herd Rally at downtown Huntington’s Pullman Square. Around 2,000 Herd fans filled the square to hear from coach Doc Holliday and several players, along with representatives from other Marshall teams … After Saturday’s game, Marshall immediately enters game-week mode for Boise State, with the teams meeting Friday night at Albertsons Stadium in Boise in a game will be televised on ESPN2. The preparation is even tougher as Marshall is leaving for Idaho on Wednesday in order to adjust to the time and altitude … Herd coaches got a look at a future opponent on Thursday night as Cincinnati impressed, especially on defense, in a 24-14 win over UCLA at UC’s Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats visit Huntington on September 28, the last of three straight challenging non-conference contests for Marshall … Thursday night’s results were mixed, at best, for Conference USA teams. Western Kentucky was upset at home by Central Arkansas and Florida International was pounded by Tulane. Charlotte beat Gardner-Webb by 21 points, while UAB nipped Alabama State 24-19.