5 points to ponder
1. Last season UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe torched the Marshall secondary for 517 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-21 Miners win. He’s yet to go over 400 yards since and enters Saturday’s game with a pair of bum ankles. Just how effective can he be?
The Thundering Herd defense might catch a break here. Obviously playing at less than 100 percent, Vittatoe was half his self in a 34-24 loss to lowly Tulane at home. He went for a season-low in completions (10), attempts (21) and yards (102). He was also picked off twice. On top of all that, the senior gunslinger rolled his ankle, the previously healthy one, in the third quarter. Vittatoe has practiced this week and one of his teammates predicted a return to UTEP offensive normalcy. “Everything looks good again,” said running back Donald Buckram.
2. Speaking of last season, there was another offense that played in that game too. Although the opposition was tough to keep up with, the Marshall O held its own, especially through the air. Brian Anderson completed 25 of 47 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course, getting in an early hole forced Anderson and company to ditch the ground game for the aerial assault. The Herd was down 13-0 after the first quarter, 20-14 after the second and 42-21 after the third. But nonetheless, Marshall found success in the passing game, something it hasn’t been able to say a whole lot this season. If anything, there should be a confidence boost. “We moved the ball a lot, but we didn’t put it in the end zone as much as we wanted to,” Anderson said. Anderson hasn’t had a 300-yard passing game since he picked apart the Miners last season.
3. Anderson’s one flaw in last year’s performance was his tendency to give away drives with interceptions. UTEP picked him off three times. It’s no secret Anderson’s had that problem carry over into this season, particularly on the road. The senior was picked off three more times last week at East Carolina, upping his interception total to eight in games played away from Joan C. Edwards Stadium. He’ll be back at the Joan this week, but don’t think the turnover bug isn’t still preying on him.
Coach Doc Holliday has been loud and definitive about his stance against turnovers since preseason camp. If someone fumbled the football, he’d put them on the ground and have them roll from midfield to the sideline with the pigskin sitting firmly in the hands. Maybe, he should have had dished out similar punishment for interceptions. In last week’s 37-10 loss at ECU, Anderson and company looked like a legitimate attack at times. In fact, at one point the quarterback zipped together several consecutive completions. But, in the end it all went for naught because the ball got in the opposition’s hands far too often. “We are not a good enough football team yet to turn the ball over and expect to win,” Holliday said.
4. The Marshall defense struggled against the run in its last two games. UCF’s Ronnie Weaver, a former walk-on, punished the interior of the Herd’s defensive line for 150 yards. ECU’s Jonathan Williams, normally not used often in the Pirates’ pass-first offense, went off for 111 yards. This week, Marshall’s next challenge comes in the Miners’ Donald Buckram.
Next to Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, nobody in the country rushed for more yards in 2009 than Buckram. At 5-10, 195-pounds, he’s the the total package that UTEP was hoping to have back in 2010 to team with the explosive Vittatoe. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out. Buckram suffered a knee injury in the preseason and has gotten back to play just four games. After ripping off eight 100-yard-plus performances last season, his high in a game this year has been just 81. “I’m about 80-to-90 percent right now,” Buckram said. “Hopefully, by Saturday, I’ll be back to 100.” If he is at full-go, expect Marshall to move a linebacker up to help spy. If the Herd sits back in pass coverage with extra defensive backs, like last week, Buckram could have a field day going up the gut.
5. With the more highlights he gets on ESPN, the more teams are starting to really pay attention to Aaron Dobson. Marshall’s big play receiver drew extra coverage all game last week by ECU and chances are UTEP will do the same.
In a way this can be a good thing for the Marshall offense. If you take away Anderson’s No. 1 option, he’ll be forced to scan the field for other receivers opening up downfield or running backs checking down in the flats. Ten — 10 — different Marshall players caught passes against the Pirates, giving this offense a throwing balance it hasn’t had all season. Most importantly, tight end Lee Smith, who’s been grossly underused, made three grabs for 31 yards. Troy Evans. In the best game of his career, Evans snagged six tosses for 50 yards and a touchdown at ECU. Expect this trend to continue Saturday.
— Andrew Ramspacher