Miami football (0-0) — who is coming into the year after a six-game regular season winning-streak — is seeking a good start to the 2017 campaign as it makes the southern trek to face Marshall University (0-0) on the road.
Following a nine-month hiatus, the ‘Hawks will again be playing meaningful football. With this, a sense of certainty and excitement floods Oxford — the regular season is back. The RedHawks look to take their first step toward Mid-American Conference glory.
Opening against the Green and White won’t be easy, however.
“They’re really athletic, at every position,” head coach Chuck Martin said. “They’re known to have explosive offenses for years, so they’re going to spread the field. They whip it around a bunch, but they’re a very good running team. They spread the field, get the boxes they want, and they’ve always had great tailbacks.”
Getting off to a good start has been a struggle for the ‘Hawks. Since 2012, the Red and White have gone 1-4 in season openers. Conversely, the Thundering Herd have put together a 4-1 mark in that span.
For MU, the health of the squad has been a concern leading up to maiden matchups in the past. This fear has since been quelled by coach Martin.
“Pretty much other than Dean [Lemon], it’s all systems go for everybody,” Martin said. “We’ve tried to be very judicious and smart in camp. We’ve tried to do enough contact to be ready to play.”
On top of staying healthy, depth and experience — two items that have eluded the squad in previous campaigns — gives this team upside, especially the defense. The “Mob,” the name self-given by the defense, appears ready for action.
“For the first time, we really have an experienced defense,” Martin said. “We’ve had five or six kids back, plus a slew of other kids that were way unproven. And, really, for the first two years, we played kids who couldn’t physically get the job done.”
When searching for the ringleader of this defense, look no further than Miami’s redshirt senior, first-team All-MAC cornerback Heath Harding. The Dayton, OH product has been named to the Bednarick Preseason, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Jim Thorpe Award Watch Lists. In 2016, Harding co-led the team with four interceptions.
Across the sideline, expect Doc Holliday’s defense to fight for every inch when going up against the explosive Red and White offense.
The defensive leader for Marshall is safety Corey Neely. 2016 saw the senior take part in 79 tackles and record two interceptions — all while forcing two fumbles.
Redshirt junior quarterback Gus Ragland will look to crack Marshall’s defense. After taking over as starter midway through last season, the Cincinnati-native rattled off six straight victories en route to Miami’s first bowl appearance since 2010.
For the ‘Herd, expect redshirt junior running back Keion Davis to add another dimension to Marshall’s offense.
The Thundering Herd has beaten the RedHawks during their last three meetings and Saturday the teams will meet for the 44th time. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. in Huntington, WV.