Non-conference schedule favors Thundering Herd

PARKERSBURG – At first glance, the non-conference schedule favors the Marshall University football team.

With the exception of a home game with Ohio on Sept. 13, Marshall should benefit from opponents trying to redeem themselves.

The Thundering Herd open against a Miami (Ohio) program which failed to win a game last year. Game 1 of the 2014 season against the Redhawks is set for Aug. 30.

The following week Rhode Island pays a visit. The Rams haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2001.

Before heading into Conference USA play, Marshall travels to Akron on Sept. 20. The Zips under the guidance of former West Virginia University running back Terry Bowden matched its highest win total since 2008 after producing five wins.

Perhaps the greatest concern for Marshall takes place in Huntington when the Bobcats from Ohio pay a visit. Last year in Athens, Ohio, the Bobcats claimed the “Battle for the Bell” for the third consecutive year by holding off Marshall, 34-31.

  • at Miami (Ohio), Aug. 30: After spending the past four seasons as an assistant at Notre Dame, David Sayler takes over as the 36th head coach in Akron football history. He replaces Mike Bath, who served as interim head coach for the Zips’ final seven games after Don Treadwell was fired. Treadwell mustered just eight wins in 29 games.

A pair of former Notre Dame players are on the roster, including quarterback Andrew Hendrix and tight end Alex Welch. Hendrix completed 25-of-58 passes for 360 yards and one touchdown with the Fighting Irish.

Solidifying the Akron defense once again is linebacker Kent Kern, who registered 98 tackles a year ago. On special teams, watch for Fred McRae, who led the Mid-American Conference averaging 9.2 yards per punt return.

Last year on opening day, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 253 yards and matched a career high with five touchdowns through the air in a 52-14 victory. Four touchdowns developed as the Herd outscored Miami 38-0 in the second half.

  • vs. Rhode Island, Sept. 6: Marshall plays a brand new opponent while making its home debut. The Rams are coached by Jim Fleming, who takes over for Joe Trainer. In five seasons, Trainer won just 21 percent of his games (12-44). Fleming’s most recent coaching experience included three years as an assistant at UCF.

Rhode Island returns two players who earned recognition on the Colonial Athletic Association’s all-conference second team. Despite missing four games, linebacker Andrew Bose led the team in tackles with 76. Punt returner Robbie Jackson ranked second in the conference averaging 10.9 yards per punt return.

  • vs. Ohio, Sept. 13: Frank Solich and the Bobcats have Marshall’s number. That was with Tyler Tettleton calling the shots at quarterback. Now that Tettleton is trying to stick with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League as a free agent, the Herd will have to brace for a new signal-caller.

The Bobcats are loaded with preseason All-MAC selections. Ten in fact, including cornerback Devin Bass, who led the team with 15 pass breakups, and defensive lineman Tarell Basham, who topped all Bobcats with 7.5 sacks and was selected to the Freshman All-American Team.

The defensive line also features Antwan Crutcher, who produced a career-high 50 tackles, Brandon Purdum and Kurt Laseak. Linebacker Ben Russell led his team with 88 tackles, followed by safety Josh Kristoff’s 72.

Chase Cochran is Ohio’s top returning receiver after finishing with 689 yards, and offensive lineman Mike Lucas led his peers by lining up for 738 plays.

Ohio’s placekicking duties are solid with the return of Josiah Yazdani, who set a school record by hitting on 93.3 percent (14-of-15) of his field-goal attempts.

  • at Akron, Sept. 20: Akron nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets of 2013. However, 11th-ranked Michigan stop the Zips on fourth-and-goal on the final play of the game to secure a 28-24 win.

Despite that loss, Akron ended the season on a high note by winning its final three games and four of its last five.

Linebacker Jatavis Brown returns as one of MAC’s top linebackers after producing a team-high 107 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss. His partner at another linebacker spot is Justin March, who finished with a team-high 6.5 sacks.

Also receiving notice from the league was running back Jawon Chisholm, who ranked eighth in the league with 72.4 yards rushing per game and eight touchdowns.

One of the top punters in school history, Zach Paul, averaged 42.9 yards per attempt.

The last time these two schools met occurred in 2004 when Akron defeated Marshall, 31-28, on its home field.