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Know Your Foe: Q&A With Marshall Insiders Herd Nation

With yet another thrilling home win, this time against Western Kentucky, FAU looks to nab their first road win of the season against pre season Conference USA favorite Marshall.

Currently ranked 23rd in the AP Poll, the Thundering Herd will be looking to continue their quest for an undefeated season. The Owls will kickoff against Marshall on Saturday at 3:30 pm on Fox Sports 1.

Special thanks to Michael S Gwinn II and his staff at HerdNation.com for taking the time to answer our questions and offer their perspective on this week's game. Be sure to check them out on Twitter as well at @HerdNation.

Q: Doc Holliday has been a great fit for Marshall, and despite his West Virginia ties, appears to be beloved by the Marshall community as he has guided the Herd to a 10 win season, a 34-24 record during his five years there, and so far has them on pace to nab a major bowl bid. How was the Doc Holliday hire viewed by the Marshall faithful at the time and are there any fears of losing him to a major program after this year?

Mike Gwinn: The hiring of Doc Holiday was viewed with excitement and consternation by HerdNation. His reputation as a recruiter was well known and unquestioned. The lack of depth and overall talent had been a problem for the Herd in the transition to C-USA. Yet there was concern. His coaching career as an assistant at WVU, NC State and Florida had spanned 28 years but this job would be his first as the CEO of a program. On top of that, there was even more concern that if he was successful he would bolt for Morgantown in the blink of an eye. WVU is his alma mater where he was a stand-out linebacker and where he had spent 22 years as an assistant coach. So much concern that his original contract and then subsequent two-year extension includes a buyout clause that requires Doc pay Marshall $600,000 for every year remaining on the contract unless he leaves for a coaching position at WVU, then the buyout would increase to a flat $3 million. But as fans of a G-5 program, HerdNation understands that losing a successful head coach to a P-5 program is a likely possibility. College football is a business and the poaching of coaches is an accepted reality. If he is hired away that means the Herd has been successful, so there is a trade-off.

Q: If Marshall runs the table and East Carolina wins their remaining games how confident is the fan base of gaining the major bowl bid ahead of the Pirates? If the Herd lose out to the Pirates, should America expect Huntington to be up in flames like Morgantown was like week after West Virginia's upset of Baylor?

MG: If The Herd finishes the season undefeated and ECU wins out, I tend to believe the Pirates will receive the Access Bowl bid as the highest ranked G-5 program. It won’t be by much, but their wins over a bad UNC team and an average Virginia Tech squad are still higher profile than our best win, which at the moment, appears to be Akron or Middle Tennessee. They would deserve it too, in my opinion. Not taking anything away from the Herd, I would hope C-USA would work to find Marshall the best bowl option then available. The worst outcome would be this team playing in a third tier bowl a week before Christmas against the Sunbelt or MAC. While I’m confident no couches would burn or beer bottles be thrown, HerdNation would be disappointed and rightly so.

Q: Is there any angst among the Herd fan base as FAU takes on Marshall this week? Last year the Herd escaped Boca Raton with a narrow 24-23 win. Coming into the year If Marshall was to lose a game, it appeared this would be the one.

Jacob Messer: Although they certainly aren’t overlooking FAU or discrediting its performance against Marshall last season, I don’t think there is any angst among Thundering Herd fans. Sure, the Thundering Herd sneaked by the Owls last year on a last-second field goal, but that game was on the road, where Marshall has struggled in recent years. This game, on the other hand, is at home, where the Thundering Herd has dominated its opponents in 2013 (6-0 record and 317-79 scoring advantage) and 2014 (3-0 record and 141-45 scoring advantage). Unfortunately for FAU fans, I think that trend will continue Saturday with another blowout victory for Marshall.

Q: What type of offense does Marshall run? Everyone knows about dual threat Miami, Florida, native Rakeem Cato. Who are the other players on offense that could cause problems for the FAU defense?

Josh Stowers: C-USA fans are well aware of seniors Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler, but a couple of names they may not be familiar with are playmakers who’ve made this explosive offense even more dangerous. Junior running back Devon Johnson has made an instant impact at his new position (moved from TE) this season averaging 133 rushing yards/game which ranks him 9th in FBS. Johnson has brought a physical style of play to the position with his blend of size (6 feet 1 inch – 243 pounds) and speed (4.5 forty). The biggest difference Marshall has seen this season has been at the “X” and “Z” receiver production. Rising junior Davonte Allen and freshman sensation Angelo Jean-Louis have been the deep threats on the outside for Cato. Both Allen (23.9) and Jean-Louis (27.5) rank in the top fifteen of all FBS receivers  in terms of yards per catch. Allen’s a big bodied receiver (6 feet 2 inches and 200 pounds) that can out muscle defenders or out jump them with his 39 inch vertical. Jean-Louis is more of your typical “burner”  on the outside. He’s displayed that speed multiple times this season with two of his catches going for  60 or more yards. Devonte Allen injured his collarbone at ODU and in his place, freshman Deon-Tay McManus, has filled in nicely with 9 catches(15.3) and 2 TDs. It’s unclear of Allen will be ready to go on Saturday.

Q: What type of defensive schemes does Marshall have? Who are the key players Owl fans should lookout for on the defensive side of the ball?

Dick Ash: In 2013 Marshall’s base defense was a nickel package (4-2-5). The Herd started 12 of 14 games with the 5 DB alignment, with then redshirt freshman Corey Tindal playing the nickel position and being named C-USA Defensive Freshman of the Year. With the move of D.J. Hunter back to LB from safety, Marshall has opened 5 of 7 games this season in a normal 4-3-4. Instead of bringing in an extra DB, the Herd can use Hunter to cover a receiver. Marshall has used various other schemes, such as a 3-3-5 on and long situations. Defensive Coordinator Chuck Heater has also used 6 DB’s at times and has or 3rd occasionally displayed a ‘radar’ look, with all defenders standing. Statistically, the Herd defense is pretty much on track with last season’s performance except in one area. In 2014 through seven games Marshall’s defense has yielded about 17 points per game, compared  to 23 points per game last season. Marshall’s defense is again yielding 4.5 yards per play this season and  has recorded the same number of tackles-for-loss. The Herd defense has recorded one more takeaway than at the same point last season. A lot of the key players are the same as last year. Sixth year DT James Rouse was named Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year in C-USA. His tackle-for-loss and sack numbers are down from 2013, but he faces almost constant double teams. Senior LB Neville Hewitt leads the Herd in total tackles, as he did after seven games in 2013. Hewitt also leads in tackles-for-loss. Tindal and senior CB Darryl Roberts again anchor the pass defense, and redshirt junior safety A.J. Leggett leads the team in interceptions as he did last season. Senior LB Jermaine Holmes and junior safety Taj Letman are also having good seasons. Key players FAU fans aren’t familiar with include true sophomore safety Tiquan Lang, who didn’t become a starter in 2013 until 3 weeks after Marshall defeated the Owls. Lang ranks third on the team in total tackles. Miami transfer DT Ricardo Williams, a junior has provided key depth in his first season with the Herd. Senior DE Arnold Blackmon is third on the team in tackles for loss. One key player Owl fans won’t see is junior LB Evan McKelvey, but they will see his #31. McKelvey was the Herd’s leading tackler in 2013, but was lost for the season with a knee injury during game 5 against Old Dominion. The following week Hunter wore McKelvey’s number, and last week Lang donned #31. McKelvey also had a season-ending knee injury in 2012.

Q: Special teams can play a crucial role in determining who leaves the field the winner. FAU's Lucky Whitehead is one of the most electric returners in today's game as his blazing speed has created problems for opponents this year. How have the special teams unit performed for the guys in Huntington this year?

MG: Kick and punt return for the Herd has been serviceable 23.1 yards per kick return and 9.7 yards per punt return. Tommy Shuler handles punt return duties and Deandre Reeves returns kicks. Where the Herd excels is in the kicking game. Tyler Williams is averaging 46.6 yards per punt which would be 7th in the nation if he had enough attempts to qualify. Marshall has punted 19 times in seven games, only Georgia Tech and Ohio State have punted less. The Herd has blocked a punt resulting in a TD at ODU and a FG last Saturday against FIU bringing the total number of blocked kicks under Doc to 22. The Herd is 8 of 10 on FG attempts and 44 of 44 in PATs. Kaare Vedvik has kicked off 57 times in 2014 with 27 touchbacks.

Q: Prediction Time! Coming into the season there was real hope among the FAU fan base that the Owls could avenge last year's heartbreaking loss and defeat the Marshall Thundering Herd on the road. Does Marshall keep its undefeated season in tack??

Corey Boden: Marshall is going to come out a little frustrated with their first half performance against FIU and start off fast against the Owls. The defense has done well against good quarterbacks and that will continue this week. FIU did move the ball against Marshall in the first half, but the defense continued to hold its own and I think the defense will slow down Johnson for the most part. FAU has struggled on the road scoring 9 points per game. Granted, two of their four road games were at Nebraska and Alabama, but they only scored 19 points against Wyoming and 10 against FIU. The Owls are also 0-4 on the road and Marshall is one of the nation’s best home teams. Marshall gets over the 50-point hump and the defense shows why they are the 7th ranked scoring defense in the country. Marshall, 56-13.