Chuck Landon: Herd wins preliminary bouts; now it gets real
OK, the exhibition games are over.
Marshall outscored the first two obviously overmatched opponents of the 2013 season by an eyebrow-raising score of 93-0 during six consecutive quarters.
Yeah, 93 to zip.
Thanks for being patsies, Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb. We have some lovely parting gifts. But, now, it is time to play some real competition.
And that’s precisely what will happen during the next two Saturdays.
Instead of playing SOL and FCS opponents, the Herd will face off against arch-nemesis Ohio University and always-rugged Virginia Tech.
And here’s the catch.
Neither game will be in Thunder-clappin’ friendly Edwards Stadium. Instead Marshall’s next game will be in venomous Peden Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday in Athens, Ohio, followed by a trip to Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 21 to take on the Hokies in noisy, hard-to-hear-yourself-gobble Lane Stadium.
Talk about a rise in degree of difficulty.
This one is off the pie charts.
And that’s precisely what is needed. Marshall’s fans need to find out how good this team is. And the Herd itself needs to find out how good it is.
The next two weeks will indicate that.
Those 14 days will be the litmus test.
Marshall isn’t likely to blow out Ohio or Virginia Tech like the 38-0 pasting it gave Miami in the second half of an eventual 52-14 victory. And the Herd certainly won’t be guffawing like it did during a 55-0 laugher over outclassed Gardner-Webb Saturday night before 26,317 fans at The Joan.
Those happy days are over, Fonzie.
If Marshall’s mercurial Stew Butler rips off touchdown runs of nine, 46 and 13 yards in a game during the next two weeks it really will mean something.
The last two Saturdays?
They were the equivalent of NFL preseason games.
Lots of fun, but don’t take them too seriously.
That won’t be the case the rest of the season. Starting on Sunday in the Shewey Building, the stats-padding contests are over and the real Marshall football season begins.
Does it ever.
No offense to Virginia Tech, but Ohio is the biggest game of the year. If the Herd can beat the Bobcats on the road, it sets a tone for the rest of the season. And if Marshall loses to Ohio for a third consecutive season? Well, that, too, sets a tone.
That’s why the Ohio game is so crucial, so critical, so season-changing.
It is the linch-pin.
“No offense,” said Marshall star slot receiver Tommy Shuler, “but I’m looking forward to playing Ohio more than Virginia Tech.”
And justifiably so.
I suspect the majority of Marshall’s players share Shuler’s opinion.
After losing two straight games to the Bobcats, it’s simply a matter of respect.
Sure, it was fun watching Butler go from running with the third-team offense in preseason camp to running amok during the first two games. But it will be even more fun if the sophomore running back can rush for 129 yards against Ohio like he averaged during Marshall’s first two games.
Were those two opening contests satisfying?
They served a purpose.
The opening foes got Marshall’s season off to a good start and set the stage for a potentially break-through year.
But it is time to move forward.
Now, it’s time to play some real competition.
The season begins in earnest today.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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