Coaches Conference Call Sets Up Opening Week

Coach Bob Pruett and the rest of the Mid-American Conference coaches gathered Monday electronically for the weekly conference call from the media. Here are some of their comments from today's call, along with excerpts from Troy University head coach Larry Blakeney from today's Sun Belt Conference coaches call. Bob Pruett addressed the strength of the MAC for a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio. "Our conference is stronger this year than last," said Pruett.

"Look at the schedules. Miami is at Michigan, we are going to Ohio State and Georgia. As a league, we have tried to raise the bar and elevate our programs. We are very capable of competing. I think the evolution of television has been a big deal, especially at Marshall," Pruett continued. "Maybe our facilities were a little better when we entered the league but all MAC schools have expanded facilities. The MAC has always had good coaches and if you give good coaches resources, they can succeed."

Pruett addressed where his team was offensively for the opener this Saturday, September 4, with Troy at 4:30 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. "If you saw (this past) Saturday's scrimmage, I'd say no, we're not prepared," said Pruett. "We are a work in progress; we've got some good players. It's the first time we have opened with a Division I-A program since the 1980s or a team who beat us the year before."

Actually, it is the first time in the 14-year history of the stadium that Marshall has opened the year with an I-A opponent. The last time a I-A opponent opened the season in Huntington was 1988, when Ohio (who beat MU 23-15 in Athens in 1987) came to Fairfield Stadium, the former home of Marshall football from 1928-1990, and lost to the Herd 31-14, although MU had opened the year with a win the previous week at I-AA Morehead State. Marshall last opened the season with a I-A opponent in 1983, when the Herd lost at Eastern Michigan 7-3, and opened the season with a win over a Division I-A opponent way back in 1979 when the Herd beat Toledo 31-14 at Fairfield Stadium (Marshall was I-AA from 1982-1996).

Pruett was not completely down on his team following what was a lack-luster scrimmage early on Saturday, on the hottest day of the entire pre-season with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees in Huntington and much hotter than that on the James F. Edwards Field Astroturf. "We have speedier wide receivers, more speed at wide receiver than last year even with the loss of Darius Watts (who may start at receiver for the Denver Broncos in the NFL this year)," said Pruett. "We have five state sprint champs at wide receiver. Hopefully, we will come on in that area. Troy has most of their football team returning, plus a supplement of transfers. We just hope we can hang in there. We've had lots of injuries in the pre-season but they should all be back for Troy. We have more depth at offensive line than any time since I've been here. We have 10 guys who can play, it's just a matter of finding the combo that clicks best and we've got to find that combo this week before we play Troy. We are not looking past them for anyone else (on the schedule)."

Troy coach Larry Blakeney, who starts his 14th season with the Trojans, expects a tough environment and tough game this Saturday out of the Herd, who his team beat 33-24 for Troy's first win in four games with Marshall. The game was the grand re-opening of Movie Gallery Stadium and Troy caught Marshall, coming off the upset the previous week of number six-ranked Kansas State, in what Blakeney called "a pretty good trap" for the Herd.

"We were able to take advantage of the circumstance of Marshall coming off a big win and our big loss, earlier in the year, to the same Kansas State team," said Blakeney. "But at least Marshall had the guts to come here. We've got Missouri coming this year (an ESPN Thursday night game five days after the Trojans open in Huntington) and we have got to get some other great programs, like Marshall and Missouri, to come here. How do we get them here?" Blakeney continued. "We hope the two-for-ones we have been giving soon become one-for-one games." The Troy coach understands, however, his team is coming into a tough situation this season as Marshall has focused on Troy since spring drills.

"With us coming to Marshall, there won't be any surprises. Most of our guys have played in that environment before (Troy visited Huntington in 2002, losing 24-7). The game will come down to which team who is best prepared for 60 minutes of football in all three phases of the game, but we understand what we are facing when we travel to Marshall. Great fans and great atmosphere."

Troy will return will starting quarterback Aaron Leak, who hit for only 5-of-15 for 59 yards versus Marshall in the win. "Aaron had a very educational spring," said Blakeney. "He has worked as hard as any quarterback I have ever had between spring and fall. We have Carl Meadows, a transfer from ETSU. He can play at this level and has a strong arm." The third quarterback is true freshman D.T. McDonald, who originally committed to Nebraska and nearly stayed with the Anaheim Angels minor league organization. "He is a quick study," said Blakeney, "but we won't throw him to the wolves (at Marshall). He will play in the game."

Also back are three players for the former Troy State who were thorns in Marshall's sides last season, ncluding 1,000-yard rusher DeWhitt Betterson, who rushed for 114 yards in the game versus the Herd; defensive back Derrick Ansley, who returned a interception 70 yards for a touchdown against MU; and defensive end Demarcus Ware, who led Troy with 16 tackles-for-loss and six sacks and is considered a possible first-round NFL Draft pick.

For other MAC coaches comments about the opening week (except for Miami, who smoked the Sycamores of I-AA Indiana State on Saturday, August 28, by the score of 49-0), see our message board under MAC Coaches Conference Call, August 30.

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