Marshall's numbers 'incredible'

If you thought Steve Spurrier fielded explosive offenses at the University of Florida, check out what Marshall has done in recent years. Phil Fulmer, whose Tennessee Vols host Marshall this Saturday, has.

''They've averaged 500 yards per game over the past five years or so,'' the Vol head man said. ''There's some incredible numbers they've put up over the years.''

After conceding that Fresno State's skill-position players presented some problems in last weekend's opener, Fulmer added that Marshall ''will be a much bigger challenge.''

That's partly because the Thundering Herd has a much more experienced offensive line than Fresno, which had great difficulty opening holes for its running backs and protecting its quarterback in last Saturday's 24-6 loss to Tennessee.

Fresno's line was so ineffecient, in fact, that Tennessee enters Week 2 leading the NCAA in both rushing defense (minus-1 yard per game) and total defense (117 yards per game). Fulmer is in no mood to gloat, however.

''It's one game,'' he said. ''Let's look at it after 10 games or so.''

Tennessee's stop unit should get a sterner test from Marshall, which piled up 608 yards of total offense in last Saturday's 45-21 blitz of Hofstra. Stan Hill, succeeding first-round NFL draft pick Byron Leftwich as Marshall's starting quarterback, completed 23 of 37 pass attempts for 344 yards and two touchdowns.

''He's in the same kind of mold as Chad Pennington (New York Jets) and Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville Jaguars),'' Fulmer said of Hill. ''He's a big kid, athletic, with a rifle for an arm. He fits what they're trying to do very well.''

Marshall's receiving corps may not be as deep as Fresno's but the Herd's top two, Josh Davis and Darius Watts, are special players. Davis caught 75 passes for 1,191 yards last season, then opened 2003 with seven catches for 86 yards vs. Hofstra. Watts sizzled in his '03 debut, grabbing seven balls for 122 yards last weekend. With most of his senior season remaining, he already ranks as the MAC's career leader in touchdown catches with 36.

Head coach Bob Pruett says Marshall's defense is not as good as it was in the late 1990s but it will be paired against a Vol offense that often stopped itself last weekend.

''We're doing some good things on offense,'' Fulmer noted, ''but we need to finish what we start.''

Tennessee dominated the first half vs. Fresno but led just 14-0 at halftime. Asked if the team's leadership showed up during this frustrating phase, Fulmer nodded.

''The kids were really incredible,'' he said. ''I didn't hear or see any frustration on the sideline. The leadership was real good.''

Just about every aspect of Tennessee's performance was ''real good,'' in fact. Two areas that weren't, however, were the kicking game and the defensive tackle play. Placement specialist James Wilhoit missed field goal tries of 30 and 34 yards, while Phillip Newman kicked off so poorly that he was replaced by walk-on Ryan Fusco.

Regarding special teams play, Fulmer said the Vols ''should take a big step'' this week. He described the kickoff duties as ''an ongoing process'' but hinted that either Newman or Fusco will stay home when the Vols travel to Florida Sept. 20.

''You can't take everybody you'd like to on the road,'' he said, ''so that's got to be resolved pretty soon.''

As for the defensive tackles, the head man noted that ''Mondre Dickerson played well. The others have a long way to go.''


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