Football coaches are notorious for not wanting to leave anything to chance, which is why so many of them report to work before dawn and usually find season openers scary.
For Miami’s Chuck Martin, Saturday’s opener against Marshall isn’t just scary. It’s to a football coach what “Jaws” was to beachcombers four decades ago.
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The Thundering Herd not only will have a new quarterback, it also will have unseen schemes devised by new offensive and defensive coordinators. Martin is especially concerned about how his defense will react to Marshall’s new-look offense.
“This is his fourth job in four years,” Miami’s fifth-year coach said during Monday’s media session about Tim Cramsey, who deployed explosive offenses at Montana State in 2015, Nevada State in 2016 and Sam Houston State last season before joining Marshall’s program. RedHawk coaches have studied video from all of those stops. “We’ve looked at everything. There are no conclusions to be drawn.”
Martin will have to depend on the experience of his unit, which features eight returning starters from the team that finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference last season. Among the returning starters are outside linebacker Brad Koenig, a fifth-year senior, and true senior middle linebacker Junior McMullen.
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“The linebackers are the leaders of the defense,” said Koenig, last year Miami tackles leader. “That’s kind of the role we have to take. We need to make sure everyone’s in the right spots and doing what they need to do.”
The RedHawks are trying to snap a four-game losing streak in the series with the Thundering Herd, which got two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Keion Davis and Chris Jackson’s 72-yard return of an interception for a touchdown in last season’s 31-26 Marshall win. Miami allowed Marshall just one offensive touchdown.
“You’d think they’d have a little chip on their shoulder knowing that we only scored seven points offensively,” center Levi Brown told the Huntington Dispatch. “We won the game based off a three-parts-of-the-game performance, and it’s something that woke us up, too.”
Marshall went on to finish 8-5 overall, including a win over Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl, and 3-4 in Conference USA. Quarterback Chase Litton, who threw a touchdown pass against Miami last season, left the program to try his hand in the National Football League, leaving graduate transfer Alex Thomson or redshirt freshman Isaiah Green to compete for the job. Coach Doc Holliday’s decision – or, at least, the announcement of his decision – will be last minute, he said.
“You’re going to figure that out at the same time Jason does,” Holliday said during his weekly media session, referring to Marshall assistant athletic director for media relations Jason Corriher. “That is going to be a gameday decision.”
Thomson is a transfer from Wagner College, while Green’s next game snap will be his first in college.
Whomever plays quarterback for Marshall and whatever they throw at Miami, Martin suspects the opener will be a wakeup call for the RedHawks, who are scheduled to play the Cincinnati in the annual “Victory Bell” grudge match on Sept. 8 at Paul Brown Stadium and at Big Ten Minnesota on Sept. 15 before playing at Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference opener on Sept. 22.
“We’re not easing into the season,” he said. “They’re not Ohio or Cincinnati, but there is a Marshall rivalry. This is going to be a high-contact game. We’re going to be sore on Sunday. They play a warp-speed, up-tempo game. They are a challenge for our team.”