Herd entertains Gardner-Webb

HUNTINGTON – Marshall is doing everything in its power to avoid the same pitfall experienced by eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs during the opening week of the season.

Producing wins against their upper-tier brethren were Football Championship Subdivision members North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, McNeese State, Towson, Northern Iowa, Nicholls, Austin Peay and Wofford.

Hooking up for the first time tonight in Huntington are Gardner-Webb (1-0) and Marshall University (1-0). Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 1-8 all-time versus FBS teams.

“The message to our football team is that you better be prepared every week to go play or you will get beat,” said Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. “Gardner-Webb has just as good as skill as we saw Saturday. They have a nose guard that is an NFL guy, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.

“It’s going to be all about preparation and if we don’t do that this week, then we will get beat. Our kids need to understand that and it starts today – just like it does every week.”

The Thundering Herd dominated Miami (Ohio) last week at home, winning 52-14 as quarterback Rakeem Cato matched a career-high with five touchdown passes to go with 253 yards through the air. The junior also rushed for 59 yards on nine carries.

“Rakeem had a couple of times that he ran well with the football which is something he wouldn’t have done in the past,” Holliday said. “He picked up a couple of key first downs for us – he is a very unselfish player.

“He’s continued to mature and has grown up a lot. He’s taking what the defense gives us. He doesn’t care if we throw for 300 yards or run for 300 yards. He just wants to win and that’s why he is a captain this week.”

As for Gardner-Webb, four years have passed since it enjoyed a winning record. The Running’ Bulldogs are coached by Carroll McCray, who spent one season as the head coach at NCAA Division II North Greenville University before returning to his alma mater this past offseason.

Preseason FCS All-American Hudson Smith is Mr. Versatility for G-W and can line up at tight end, running back and defensive end. Teammate Tanner Burch will start at linebacker, where he ranked second nationally with 12.6 tackles per game last year, despite missing the final two games because of injury.

In last week’s 28-21 victory over Furman, Juanne Blount rushed for a career-high 162 yards on 28 carries and scored two touchdowns as the Runnin’ Bulldogs rallied from a 21-7 deficit in the third quarter. For his efforts, Blount was named the Big South Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week.