Maryland takes on Marshall Dec. 27 at Navy Marine-Corps Stadium for the Military Bowl, and to gain a different perspective on the matchup we spoke to Thundering Herd beat writer Jack Bogaczyk.
Terrapin Times: Jack, just about the game in general, these two teams have never played each other before, so is there any buzz around the Marshall fan base about Maryland?
Jack Bogaczyk: Oh yeah, they're excited to be playing an ACC team; that opportunity doesn't come around too often. [Marshall] played Virginia Tech this year and lost in triple overtime in Blacksburg, but Marshall has only beaten an ACC team once in their history. In 1999 when Chad Pennington was here and Marshall went 13-0, they beat Clemson, but that's been it. Marshall might have beaten Wake Forest back in the 1940s before there was an ACC, but besides that the Herd has only beaten one ACC team.
So fans are excited to get another crack at an ACC team. And not only are fans excited to be playing someone from the ACC, but Maryland's going to the Big Ten, so they see it as going against a Big Ten team too. So in general they're pleased to be playing a team from a BCS conference.
TT: What about the ticket sales? Are the sales picking up on the Marshall side? We heard it was dragging a bit…
JB: It's hard to say. I know tickets are $77 for upper decks, and I asked my ticket guy about [the sales], and in general they don't like to give up that information as far as how many are being sold. Even during the season that information is kind of hard to come by. I could give you a guess, but it would be just a pure guess.
But I would say there will be a decent amount of Marshall fans there. The last couple years the president of the university, Stephen Kopp, in his state of the university address, has really pushed supporting the school at bowl games. It was surprising how many alumni and athletic boosters showed up to hear him.
And, actually, someone told me about this, but somewhere in Maryland there's a function put on by Marshall alumni every year. And there's a significant number of people, 300 or 400, that attend that each year. So I think that would add to the total who will be going to the Military Bowl.
TT: Just getting into the team a little bit here, the offense has put up some big numbers. What does it do well and what makes it effective? Are the numbers inflated, a product of playing in Conference USA?
JB: The offense is very good, and yes they do get to play Conference USA competition, but it was that good last year too. In fact, as far as numbers, they put up better numbers this year. The reason the offense is so good this year is because the running game is better. Essray Taliaferro, Steward Butler, those two running the ball, they've been very effective. Instead of just throwing the ball 75 percent of the time like last year, the running game has probably been the best Marshall has had since they made the transition from I-AA to I-A in 1997. So that's the reason the offense has been so good this year.
TT: And the defense certainly looks better than last year…
JB: To me, the main improvement has come on defense. Last year Marshall's defense was one of the poorest in the country, and right now it is the No. 1 most improved scoring defense in the nation at 10 points per game less than last year. Chuck Heater came in here -- he was a longtime defense coordinator and assistant coach with Urban Meyer in Florida before he went to Temple – and has really turned it around his first year.
It's a man-based scheme, pressure on the quarterback, that sort of thing. They make a whole lot of changes and shifts. There was one game where Marshall's defense came out in a one-man front, playing a 1-5-5. It's a base 4-3, but they go into all different kinds of alignments like a 4-2-5, that 1-5-5, and some other sub-packages.
TT: Who are some of the X-factors Terps fans should know about. They know about the quarterback, Rakeem Cato, and how good he is, but who are some of the other guys to keep an eye on?
JB: Well Steward Butler the running back is the No. 2 back behind Essray Taliaferro, but when Steward's in the game he's a breakaway guy. He's had six or seven rushes of 40 or more yards this year. Another player to watch is tight end Gator Hoskins, especially in the red zone. Hoskins he has like 25 touchdown catches in his career. Marshall will put him in the slot a lot. He's not really a true tight end; he's more of an H-back/slot receiver-type guy.
On defense, I'd say the key guy to watch is the cornerback Darryl Roberts, No. 7. He's a very good player out on the edge and a very good cover guy. And the other guy to watch is defensive tackle James Rouse, No. 11, who has come back from two years of not playing because of injury. He was voted team MVP, and he's very, very good at the point of attack.
TT: What about the offensive line. How effective is Marshall in the trenches?
JB: Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is new this year after he was fired from his job at FAU, which basically happened because Mario Cristobal was hired there and brought in a new staff. And I'll tell you, Mirabal has really improved the line a lot. He's pretty much narrowed it down to five main guys. The left tackle Garrett Scott is very good, and the center, Chris Jasperse, has started 39 games in a row and has been great. The right guard Alex Schooler is very underrated, and the right tackle Clint Van-Horn became the starter at midseason and has been good too.
It's mainly just the five starters though. There's been games where just those five have played and there's not much rotation or subbing. And the line is not oversized, and my guess is Maryland is bigger. But basically the line's mantra is, ‘Five guys, one line,' and along with the defense, this group is one of the main reasons Marshall has had success.
TT: What about any weaknesses -- any concerns for Marshall heading into this game?
JB: Well, the main thing is the outside receivers. The slot guy Tommy Shuler, he had 97 catches this year after 110 last year, so he's very good. But they haven't gotten as much production as they would have liked from the outside guys. Craig Wilkins is the best of them, but the rest of them, it's pretty much throw them all in one pot and take your pick. They'd like to get a little more out of those guys, so that's been the main concern this year.
TT: There is one Maryland connection on Marshall. Stefan Houston was a Maryland recruit before leaving for the Herd. How has he done in his first year at Marshall?
JB: He's been very good. He doesn't start a lot because Marshall plays a lot of that 4-2-5 and brings the nickel back in. What will happen is on the first snap of the game Houston will be on the field as well as Corey Tindal the nickel. And depending on what formation Maryland comes out in, Houston or Tindal will stay in the game and the other will run off. But when Houston has been on the field he's been an impact guy; he's a good tackler and he makes plays out there at weak-side backer.
TT: What do Marshall fans think of Doc Holliday and what he's been able to do for that program?
JB: I actually just wrote a story about him recently. This is his fourth year here, and he's taken guys who really didn't like football or care about football and brought in guys who really want to be at Marshall and have bought in. Then he hired eight new coaches this past offseason because of guys leaving, most to BCS schools. They had two strength coaches and six staff coaches leave, and most went to BCS programs. So he's done a great job hiring the right people, and they've been desired by larger schools.
Doc came in with the reputation as a recruiting guy, but he's shown the last couple years he can put the right people on the field and hire good coaches too.
TT: Last question: There's obviously a Marshall-Navy connection for this Military Bowl with Jack Lengyel, the coach during the "We Are Marshall" episode, going to the Academy as an administrator. Are Marshall fans talking about that at all?
JB: Well, Marshall is actually supposed to play Navy in the future. They had to back up the games because of Navy's move to the AAC, but I think those games are scheduled for 2022 now.
But, yes, there has been some talk about Lengyel being one of the honorary captains in this game, along with a few other people. And, yes, Lengyel is around here with all his "We Are Marshall" stuff and going back to the ‘70s. He's definitely a presence around the school and the program.
Behind Enemy Lines: Marshall
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