— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Game week has arrived for Marshall and the team’s coaches and players say Saturday night’s matchup with the VMI Keydets can’t come soon enough.
The Herd and Keydets, old rivals from Marshall’s two decade tenure in the Southern Conference (1977-1997) will face off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Tenth-year Marshall head coach Doc Holliday says the contest will be important for the Herd to answer some internal questions prior to heading west next week for a showdown with Boise State.
“Anytime you open up, regardless of who it is, there are a lot of unknowns,” Holliday said. “For us, we have guys who haven’t had the opportunity to play yet and react in a game situation. Of course, there are unknowns with the opponent, because with it being the first game, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. You expect everything and make some adjustments early on based on how they decide to play us.”
Marshall has plenty of experience on the offensive side of the ball with eight returning starters, but there are plenty of defensive questions with only three returning starters. Additionally, Brad Lambert is breaking in his new role as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Despite new faces on the defensive side, Herd senior defensive back Chris Jackson says he and fellow senior starters, linebackers Omari Cobb and defensive lineman Marquis Couch, have confidence in the talented younger players.
“We’ll come ready to play every week, ready for every opponent,” Jackson said. “A lot of the guys who are new starters have been around here awhile and they’ll be ready. They’ll play hard and everybody will be excited when they see them perform.”
Marshall’s offensive weapons are ample, as returning quarterback Isaiah Green can hand the ball to two talented backs — sophomore Brenden Knox and junior Tyler King — both of whom are healthy after suffering late season injuries in 2018.
Marshall’s receiving corps may be the team’s surprise. Despite the loss of All-Conference USA receiver Tyre Brady to graduation, the Herd pass catchers are led by another veteran, senior Obi Obialo. They’ll be helped by some talented newcomers, including Kentucky transfer Tavin Richardson, sophomore Stone Scarcelle, senior Artie Henry and redshirt freshman Talik Keaton.
The Herd’s offensive strength may well be up front, led by another all-conference performer, center Levi Brown.
Marshall’s placekicking game could be in flux, as senior Justin Rohrwasser is being challenged for kickoff and placement work by freshman Shane Ciucci.
If recent history is any indication, VMI might not post much of a challenge to the Herd. The Keydets are coming off a 1-10 season in 2018, with their lone win over Tusculum, a Division II program.
Fifth-year Keydets head coach Scott Wachenheim is in the final year of his contract and is only 6-38 at the school. The Keydets have lost 26 straight games to Division I foes, including 22 straight Southern Conference games.
Holliday says he doesn’t pay attention to VMI’s past woes and he expects an opponent who will play like it has nothing to lose.
“They’re going to load the box and force us to throw it at times,” Holliday said. “Offensively, if you’re one-dimensional, you’re going to have problems. With Isaiah having a year under his belt and having our offensive line back intact, we’ll have to take what that defense gives us.
“VMI is going to play extremely hard. It always does. Offensively, they play extremely fast and like to throw the ball, which is something that sets them apart from other military programs. We’ll have a challenge with a lot of new people lined up in the secondary for us. They’ll play fast and throw it all over the place and I’m eager to see how our guys respond.”
Marshall has a 14-5 all-time series advantage. The Herd has won 14 straight games against VMI, with the most recent coming in 1996.