Dec. 20, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" With the St. Petersburg Bowl approaching on Saturday, most of the talk among Marshall's football players about their Dec. 26 opponent at Tropicana Field has focused on two items.
The first is Connecticut's defense, which ranks just behind the Herd in FBS scoring defense, but 20 yards per game better than Marshall in total defense.
The other fact is that the Huskies are indeed husky.
"Defensively, they do a lot of odd front, have a really good nose guard (redshirt senior Julian Campeni) who will be lining up over me, and they're big guys," Marshall junior center Michael Selby said. "We've played some big guys before and we've just got to go to work, keep maturing because we're still a young offensive line. We have to just keep getting better."
Herd redshirt senior left guard Sebastian Johansson said the Huskies were impressive in more than holding American Athletic Conference champ and Peach Bowl-bound Houston to one offensive touchdown in the Cougars' only loss.
"I look at them as an offensive lineman, and they're a very strong and physical team," Johansson said of the 6-6 Huskies. "Their guys in the box are impressive. The nose guard is very good and he uses a benching kind of technique to get into you, and their linebackers come down pretty well.
"It's going to be a physical game for four quarters ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" that's what I've got the mindset on Ã¢â'¬Â¦ They're kind of similar to Purdue in some aspects, some not, but it's just a really physical football game we're looking at."
The comparison to Purdue -- Marshall came from behind in the fourth quarter for a 41-31 season-opening win over the Boilermakers ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" was made by multiple Herd players. And it's a valid impression.
Using the five-man offensive fronts, Purdue averaged 6 feet 4, 302 pounds for its five against the Herd. UConn's offensive line averages 6-5 1/2, 307. On defense, the four-man Boilermakers front averaged 6-3 3/4, 268, while the Huskies' average is 6-3, 289. At linebacker, Purdue's 245-pound average is about 9 pounds more than UConn's.
UConn ranks 17th nationally in scoring defense at 19.8 points per game, while the Herd is 14th at 18.4. In total defense, Connecticut is No. 33 (352.3-yard average), and Marshall is No. 48 (372.3).
"They've got a great defense, with a big front seven," Herd sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek opined about UConn. "They've caused (24) turnovers this year and they don't allow people to score a lot. They've had a lot of 7-3 (win over Tulane), 9-6 games (loss at Missouri).
"I think they held Missouri to nine points, and when you see that the number jumps out to you. Their defense is sound for sure. They've got a lot of veteran guys and it's going to be a tough challenge for us."
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Helmets Ã¢â'¬Â¦ shoulder pads Ã¢â'¬Â¦ caps Ã¢â'¬Â¦ gowns Ã¢â'¬Â¦ ?
With the FBS bowl season beginning Saturday, many of the players on the 80 teams in the 40 games (plus a CFP Championship) have gained their undergraduate degrees. And on that list of teams, Marshall proudly ranks in a tie for fifth place, with 20 graduates on the roster for the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Alabama leads the "bowl graduates" list with 29, followed by Temple (26), Kansas State (22), Cincinnati (21), Marshall and Middle Tennessee (20), Auburn and Tennessee (18), West Virginia (17) and TCU and Wisconsin (16).
The Herd played the 2015 regular season with 13 players already owning their MU undergraduate degrees ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" a record for a Marshall football team -- and seven more finished their undergraduate work in the just-completed fall semester (2015).
Marshall had five 2015 seniors (athletic eligibility) graduate in December 2014 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" wide receiver Davonte Allen, linebacker D.J. Hunter, safety Taj Letman and tight end Joe Woodrum in management, and offensive guard Sebastian Johansson in sports management/marketing.
The roster gained four more graduates in May 2015 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" cornerback Keith Baxter (health science), defensive end Joe Massaquoi (criminal justice), offensive tackle Clint Van Horn (political science) and punter Tyler Williams (marketing). Four summer graduates were added in August 2015 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" defensive end Armonze Daniel (management), defensive tackle Steve Dillon (Regents bachelor of arts), kick returner Deandre Reaves (marketing) and linebacker Evan McKelvey (marketing and management).
This December, Hunter added a second degree (marketing), while other graduates were long snapper Matt Cincotta (magna cum laude, biology in 3 1/2 years; pre-med), defensive linemen Jarquez Samuel and Ricardo Williams (Regents bachelor of arts), offensive lineman Tom Collins (exercise science), running back Devon Johnson (sports management) and cornerback Corey Tindal and wide receiver Jack Gammon (management).
Cincotta was named to the 2015 Conference USA All-Academic Team.
Tindal, Massaquoi and Gammon are juniors. Seventeen of the 18 seniors on the Herd's bowl roster have completed undergraduate course work for degrees.
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In the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Herd hopes to regain its stature as No. 1 in winning percentage in postseason history among schools that have appeared in at least five bowl games.
Marshall is 9-3 (.750) in its 12 appearances, tied with Utah at 15-5 (.750). The Utes moved into that tie with a Las Vegas Bowl triumph over longtime rival BYU on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Herd is among a list of five teams seeking a fifth consecutive bowl win in this postseason. The nation's longest active streak for bowl wins is four, shared by the Herd, Oregon, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Michigan State, South Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette. However, the Gamecocks and Ragin' Cajuns are not bowl eligible in 2015.
Florida State owns the record for bowl wins in consecutive seasons (11, 1985-95 seasons).
And with victories in the Military and Boca Raton bowls in 2013 and '14, respectively, Marshall is trying to become only the second team in Conference USA history to win bowls in three consecutive seasons. Southern Miss did it from 2004-06, with victories in the New Orleans Bowl (twice) and GMAC Bowl.