Game 2 scouting report: Marshall

There were plenty of positive signs in Marshall's 45-21 victory over Hostra Saturday, but the negatives that often accompany a season-opening game were also in ample supply.

The good: Quarterback Stan Hill, taking over for graduated standout Byron Leftwich, passed for 344 yards and two touchdowns in his first start at Marshall. The running game proved equally effective, piling up 261 yards, with three rushers breaking the 50-yard mark.

The bad: Five turnovers -including three interceptions by Hill - prevented an even stronger offensive showing. Well into the third quarter, the Thundering Herd led just 28-21 against a Division I-AA opponent.

Overall, it wasn't the type performance that will frighten Tennessee when the two teams meet at Neyland Stadium Saturday.

''In one sense that's pretty good,'' Marshall coach Bobby Pruett said. ''In another sense, I thought we turned about 70 points into 45.''

The Marshall players seemed to have quickly cast aside the memory of the inauspicious debut, calling out Tennessee in post-game interviews.

''We're going into Tennessee to win,'' cornerback Roberto Terrell told sportswriters after the game. ''We're not going in there to have a good showing. We're going in there to win, whatever it takes. We're going to be physical, and we are going to treat them like we do any other team.''

The offensive performance should catch the eye of the Tennessee coaching staff, which watched its defense stifle a potentially explosive attack in Fresno State Saturday. The Thundering herd appears to have a well-rounded offense that can strike with several weapons.

Running back Franklin Wallace led Marshall with 86 yards on 16 carries. Earl Charles added 50 yards and Hill had 50. Tank Tunstalle and Donte Newsome are other capable backs.

''It is a little bit of a different situation in that I have a number of guys to work with,'' running backs coach Ernie Purnsley said. ''There were times in the past where there were only one or two guys available.''

If Saturday's game is an indication, Wallace should be the featured back.

''He is focused on having an outstanding senior season,'' Purnsley said. ''He hasn't had the nagging injuries that he had in the past and he is running freer and stronger than we have seen him in a while.''

Darius Watts and Josh Davis are talented and experienced receivers. Watts, a senior, owns the Mid-American Conference record for touchdown passes with 36 and is first in the nation among active receivers with 3,063 career receiving yards. Watts had seven catches for 122 yards against Hofstra. Junior Josh Davis diverts some of the attention away from Watts. He had seven catches for 88 yards in the opener.

''Those two guys have accomplished a lot so far, but they can do so much more,'' receivers coach Dwayne Nunez said. ''They are both in position to be leaders on this team, and they need to take that responsibility seriously.''

Depth at receiver has been a concern for the Thundering Herd. Tremel Guillory and Jason Schroeder are expected to contribute.

''We don''t have much experience, and that is a major worry,'' Nunez said. ''We have a couple of guys who have played a little, but nothing significant.''

Hill, who will strive to live up to the legacy of recent Marshall greats Chad Pennington and Leftwich, proved himself worthy last season when he led the Thundering Herd to a crucial victory over Miami of Ohio.

Graduation losses and pre-season injuries have reduced Marshall's offensive line to a dangerous level. Inexperienced replacements are filling the holes. Guard Luke Salmons and center Joey Stepp lead the group.

In limiting Hofstra to 241 yards of offense, the Thundering Herd defense built on a strong showing from last year. Marshall went from 86th nationally in total defense in 2001 to 31st in 2002. Many of those responsible for the turnaround are back, but the first real test will come against the Vols.

''We are improved, but who is really happy with 31st?" Marshall defensive coordinator Bill Wilt said. ''We still have a long way to go, and that is not just me saying that. I hope some of the guys on defense will step up and be leaders. The good news is that there is some experience here, but we still have to make strides.''

Maurice McKinney and Toriano Brown are leaders on the defensive front, Dionte Wilson and J.T. Rembert are steady linebackers and Terrell heads the secondary.

''We lost three guys with leadership and ability in the secondary, and they will be hard to replace,'' Wilt said. ''You can't put a price tag on what that experience means.''

Pruett is fully aware that his team still has deficiencies that must be addressed if the Thundering Herd is to stage an upset on Saturday.

''We have players that have played at every position,'' he said. ''What we have to do is solidify some areas and develop the backups.''


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