For every Ohio football game, Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent to get first-hand analysis. By reaching out to team beat reporters and opposing players, Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will fare against their adversaries. In a question-and-answer format, Speakeasy chats with another team’s reporter to gain a new perspective on Ohio’s opponents.
This week, Speakeasy talks to Mark Martin, color analyst for the Marshall Thundering Herd on IMG Sports Network. He’s also the sports director at WCHS-TV and WVAH-TV in Huntington.
Speakeasy Sports: How far do you think Marshall has come since the 27-24 loss against the ‘Cats last season?
Mark Martin: I think they’ve come a long way. Obviously that was a tough loss for them, and it was one of many close losses they suffered last year. Win one of those games and they would’ve been in a bowl, so this is just one of many that they look back on and they’re disappointed in. Their quarterback has grown up. He’s just a great player, and they have a lot of weapons around him offensively. On the defensive side, which had some issues last year, I think they’ve really sured that up with a new coordinator and new scheme and certainly a lot more depth. When you talk about Marshall this season compared to last year, they just have so much more depth. I think that’s going to carry them a long way this year.
SS: Last season quarterback Rakeem Cato shredded the inexperienced Bobcat secondary on a record-breaking night. After losing two of his top-three targets from last season, how has he further polished his game for 2013?
MM: I think what’s going to help even more this year is the running game is going to even stronger, so that takes a little pressure off of him. At the same time he’s just such a competitor that he doesn’t care if he throws for 500 yards or doesn’t throw for any yards, as long as they win. But he is stronger and now he has got close to 20 starts under his belt and he’s just a really, really good football player. He’s just one of those guys that knows football and knows how to play the game, and he’s really, in his first two games, shown off that he’s got the ability to run. He’s not somebody that they think about running the football; everyone thinks of him as passer. He actually, if need be, can take off and run with it. He’s added to the repertoire of the offense with his running ability.
SS: Marshall has a very nice rotating cast of defensive linemen and ends that all have playing experience dating back to last season. Is this the strongest point on the team right now?
MM: I wouldn’t say really to be honest. I think now the strongest point of the team might be the o-line. I mean, they are deep. That was something that really hurt them last year. Their center, who’s a great player and just a junior and former walk-on, he’s playing 90 snaps a game, but they’ve got probably 10, maybe 12 guys, they can hull in there. And that’s huge and I think that’s really going to help them with what they like to do because when need be they want to play as fast as possible. Not only are you trying to gas the defense that you’re playing against, but your guys are going to get tired too.
SS: This is the third season that the Thundering Herd is going up against a Tyler Tettleton-led offense. What does Marshall like to do to get him out of his comfort zone?
MM: He’s just such a great player and they have tremendous respect for him, so I don’t know if they can get Tyler out of his comfort zone. He’s just such a good player. But I certainly feel that they may have a little more speed on the edge now and they may have a little bit more depth there as well to possibly send a little bit more pressure. Obviously he’s a good quarterback and when he sees that pressure, he’s got two good backs there he can turn to and he’s a very good passer and we all know he has very dangerous feat. So I think the best way to answer how to get him out of his comfort zone is to get him on the ground as quick as possible.
SS: What Marshall playmaker does Ohio need to look out for on Saturday?
MM: It obviously starts with Rakeem, but he just has an abundance of receivers to get the ball to. Obviously (Tommy) Shuler is his favorite target, but Tommy is certainly a guy that catches a lot of passes. And you also got good tight ends with not only Gator Hoskins but also Eric Frohnapfel. They have another kid they can bring in, Devon Johnson. Their running game has certainly been very solid through the first two games with Essray Taliaferro, who’s a senior who has certainly waited his turn, and, at the moment, Steward Butler has had two good games. And then Kevin Grooms, who did not play last week and was limited in the first game.
SS: What do the Bobcats have to do to come away with a victory against Marshall?
MM: The offense, just figuring out a way to shut down our high-octane offense. Our offense averages 90 plays a game and has in the past. It’s an offense that can hurt you in so many ways. It may be a thing when you guys have the football and it’s, “How much time can we chew up?” And I think sometimes when you’re playing against a good offense, your offense plays keep away.