Instead of the tuck-and-run style of KSU's Josh Cribbs, the Marshall defense will be faced with a rock-solid pocket passer in Ben Roethlisberger, who has put up some impressive numbers in his first season of college football. Roethlisberger ranks third in the MAC, completing 62.7% of his passes for 2,205 yards and an incredible 21 touchdowns, both freshman records in the MAC.
The only problem the youngster has had this year is interceptions, with 11, but he had a solid game last week in a 24-21 victory over Bowling Green where he completed 15-of-25 passes for 305 yards.
His counterpart in this game, Herd QB Byron Leftwich, is a more efficient and experienced passer. The Heisman hopeful has completed two thirds of his passes on the season for a MAC-leading 2,809 yards, with 25 touchdowns and a mild 6 interceptions. Both teams feature solid defenses, which will have their toughest tests of the conference season against the other team's offense.
Lets break this game down and see what each team has, and will need, to win this critical game:
Points Scored: 305
Points Allowed: 204
Last Week :W @ Kent 42-21
Rush Off.: 1375
Pass Off.: 2830
Rush Def.: 1512
Pass Def.: 1863
Penalties: 74-657 yds.
Turnover Margin +4
Team Rating 81.38
Key Player(s) QB Byron Leftwich, DB Yancey Satterwhite (10 breakups, 3 INT), LB Max Yates (109 tackles, 66 solo, 5 sacks)
Points Scored: 227
Points Allowed: 206
Last Week :W @ Bowling Green, 24-21
Rush Off.: 1323
Pass Off.: 2285
Rush Def.: 1512
Pass Def.: 1863
Penalties: 62-566 yds.
Turnover Margin -4
Team Rating 72.03
Key Player(s) QB Ben Roethlisberger, DB Mike Adams (10 breakups, 1 INT), DB Matt Pusateri (102 tackles, 61 solo)
The Redhawks resemble the Herd on offense, playing out of multiple sets and likes to pass the ball around. Since the departure of Travis Prentice Miami has had a little trouble getting things going on the ground, but has had success using Marshall logic using the pass to set up the run when necessary. Miami is solid defensively and gets a lot of support from its young secondary, which features a sophomore and a freshman.
The Redhawks will have a lot of motivation going into this game, considering the fact that they beat the Herd in 1997, but stayed home for the title game after they dropped a second conference game a week later to Toledo (remember, conference games in either division counted back then) which gave Marshall back the lead. Miami has not challenged the Herd since, and was not in the three-way tie for the lead last year between Marshall, Akron, and Ohio that Marshall won and went on to its fourth MAC title.
Yes, the chips have fallen just right for the Herd in years past, and Miami has every intention of grabbing up all the chips and running straight to the title game this year.
Thundering Herd Keys to Winning:
1) Pressure the young QB to make bad decisions:
- Marshall comes into this game with the one big advantage of being in the plus on turnover department. Roethlisberger's inexperience has caused him 11 interceptions and every one of them the defense can get does the one thing Marshall needs to win this game: give the ball to Byron. Need I say more?
2) Kick coverage:
- In a battle of two good offenses, field position is everything and Miami is one of the MAC's best teams in kick and punt returns with 23.5 yards per kick return and 11.4 yards per punt return. A long field can stall even the best offense, and it will be up to Marshall punter/kicker Curtis Head to keep the RedHawks pinned back, along with more great special teams play by Trod Buggs, who will likely see a good deal of time in the offensive backfield due to a minor injury to Fanklin Wallace.
3) Play a clean game:
- Call it intuition, but the east division title game usually means referees will be on the lookout for any kind of penalty to throw on either team. Momentum is going to be an incredibly important factor in this game and penalties can bring a halt to that in no time.
Marshall is a much more talented team, but has not had to play four solid quarters of football for a while. Miami has had a little tougher schedule on the season, but is notorious for playing to their competition. A good example is a 14-point loss to top-ten Michigan and a 17-point win over 2-7 Buffalo. The RedHawks' largest winning margin is 17 points (Buffalo) and biggest losing margin is 25 (Iowa). So long as Marshall plays to its capability, they will almost certainly outrun the Redhawks and take an 8-game winning streak into the MAC title game.
The Prediction: Marshall 35 Miami 24