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2007 Marshall Thundering Herd

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 21, 2008


2007 Marshall Thundering Herd Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 Marshall Thundering Herd

Recap: With a third straight losing season, Marshall got even further away from the glory days when bowl games and league titles were annual events.  The Herd finished respectably, winning three of its final five games, but wasn’t able to dig out of an 0-6 hole to start the season.  Although Marshall showed a knack for moving the ball, the defense never recovered from the season-ending injury to its top performer, DE Albert McClellan.    

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Bernard Morris

Defensive Player of the Year: S C.J. Spillman

Biggest Surprise: Marshall was the reason UCF, and not East Carolina, won the Conference USA East Division.  The Herd shocked the front-running Pirates, 26-7, on Nov. 10, getting a terrific all-around game from Morris, and an unexpected effort from the weather-beaten defense.  The win propelled UCF into first place, a position the Knights would never relinquish.   

Biggest Disappointment: Playing New Hampshire in Week 3 was supposed to be the Herd’s get-well game after opening the season against West Virginia and Miami.  Nope.  Marshall got ambushed, 48-35, by QB Ricky Santos and a Wildcat offense that rung up more than 500 yards, freely moving the ball on the ground and through the air.  The Herd was obviously shell-shocked from the loss, needing more than a month before it finally broke into the win column.     

Looking Ahead: It’s make-or-break time in 2008 for Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who’s been unsuccessful replacing Bob Pruett.  He needs to find a capable quarterback to replace Morris, but does welcome back a slew of returning starters, including McClellan, that’ll help push the program back toward the .500 mark
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- 2007 Marshall Preview
- 2006 Marshall Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
6-6
2007 Record:
3-9

Sept. 1 at Miami  L 31-3
Sept. 8 West Virginia L 48-23
Sept. 15
N Hampshire L 48-35
Sept. 22 at Cincinnati L 40-14
Oct. 2
at Memphis L 24-21
Oct. 13 at Tulsa L 38-31
Oct. 21 So Miss L 33-24
Oct. 27
Rice W 34-21
Nov. 3 at UCF L 47-13
Nov. 10 East Carolina W 26-7
Nov. 17 at Houston L 35-28
Nov. 24
UAB W 46-39

Nov. 24
Marshall 46 ... UAB 39
Marshall pulled out the win in the shootout when Bernard Morris capped off an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:07 to play. UAB bombed away with Joe Webb and Sam Hunt combining to throw for 389 yard and two touchdowns, but it was a four-yard Rashard Slaughter touchdown run with 5:22 that gave the Blazers their first lead of the game before the Herd's final drive. Kevin Saunders returned a punt 58 yards for a fourth quarter UAB score, and Darius Marshall returned a kickoff 91 yards for a Herd score after Mario Wright's second touchdown of the game. Will Dunbar made 16 tackles for the Blazers.
Player of the game: Marshall QB Bernard Morris completed 26 of 36 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown, and ran ten times for 55 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: UAB - Passing: Joseph Webb, 14-26, 200 yds
Rushing: Sam Hunt, 8-64. Receiving: Frantrell Forrest, 7-64
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 26-36, 309 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Darius Marshall, 9-60. Receiving: Cody Slate, 6-72

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... As bad as the season was, closing out with two wins in the final three games, and battling hard in a tough loss to Houston, is a plus. The biggest problem was the lack of consistent defense. If Mark Snyder is supposed to be a defensive coach, there's no reason his team should've been so bad against UAB in the final game of the year. The offense simply wasn't good enough to keep up in Conference USA shootouts, so once the defense starts to improve, so will the Herd.

Nov. 17
Houston 35 ... Marshall 28
Anthony Alridge scored on a three-yard run and took a pass 26 yards for a score, and Case Keenum ran for a touchdown and threw two touchdown passes including a 62-yard play to Mark Hafner for a touchdown to stay two steps ahead of the Herd. Marshall made it close late on a one-yard Kelvin Turner run, but the onside kick failed and the Cougars were able to run out the clock. The Herd got touchdown runs from Darius Marshall and Chubb Small, and a 32-yard scoring grab from Emmanuel Spann.
Player of the game: Houston RB Anthony Alridge ran 25 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, and caught five passes for 44 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 20-32, 260 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Darius Marshall, 12-66, 1 TD. Receiving: E.J. Wynn, 6-66
Houston - Passing: Case Keenum, 24-32, 298 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Anthony Alridge, 25-103, 1 TD. Receiving: Mark Hafner, 6-128, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Herd couldn't capitalize on the win over East Carolina with Houston able to move the ball far too easily. It wasn't a bad overall performance in the loss, but there weren't many big stops on third downs and the offense failed to get the chains moving. With a home game against UAB to close out, there's no excuse for not winning in a walk. The Blazer offense isn't doing much of anything, and the Herd can't go into the off-season with yet another loss and a 2-10 record.

Nov. 10
Marshall 26 ... East Carolina 7
East Carolina was stuffed for just 259 yards and managed only a four-yard Chris Johnson touchdown run in the third quarter as Marshall took a 16-0 lead highlighted by a 23-yard E.J. Wynn touchdown pass and a 75-yard Bernard Morris scoring run. Emmanuel Spann caught a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the game was in the fourth quarter, and Anthony Binswanger iced it with his second field goal coming with just under six minutes left. Morris became the first Marshall quarterback to run for 1,000 yards in a season.
Player of the game: Marshall QB Bernard Morris completed 24 of 32 passes for 238 yards two touchdowns, and ran 11 times for 126 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 13-21, 109 yds
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 12-72, 1 TD. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-18
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 24-32, 238 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Bernard Morris, 11-126, 1 TD. Receiving: E.J. Wynn, 6-51, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... As bad as the season has been for the Herd, it has won two of its last three games and came up with a stunner against East Carolina to potentially make the final few weeks more fun. The defense came up with its best game of the year, swarming all over Chris Johnson while not letting the Pirate offense get on track from the start. This was nice, but beating Houston on the road would be an even better indication on how far the program has come.

Nov. 3
UCF 47 ... Marshall 13
UCF took advantage of three Marshall interceptions and Kevin Smith first half rushing scores from two and 87 yards out to win in a walk. Marshall wasn't able to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter on a 45-yard Chubb Small run, but by then, UCF was up 33-13 helped by two Brian Watters touchdown grabs from 23 and 30 yards out. The Knight defense got in the act late with Darin Baldwin talking an interception 37 yards for a score.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 29 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 48 yards.
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 18-31, 239 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Chubb Small, 2-45, 1 TD. Receiving: Cody Slate, 9-91
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 14-21, 203 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Kevin Smith, 29-188, 2 TD. Receiving: Brian Watters, 6-88, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Marshall simply isn't doing the little things right. It's not pass protecting, getting sacked seven times by UCF, it lost the turnover battle, 3-1, and committed eight penalties to none. The consistency just isn't there with not enough help from the running game and no time for Bernard Morris to operate. Things don't get much better coming up with East Carolina and Houston coming up.

Oct. 27
Marshall 34 ... Rice 21
Marshall jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead with Bernard Morris and Kelvin Turner each running for short touchdowns, and then Morris put it away midway though the third with a 26-yard scoring run. Rice fought back with a Chase Clement 20-yard touchdown run and two scoring passes, with a two-yarder to Toren Dixon pulling the Owls within six with 3:12 to play, but the Herd answered with Kelvin Turner's second touchdown run of the day to close things out.
Player of the game: Marshall QB Bernard Morris completed 15 of 33 passes for 227 yards, and ran 13 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 29-48, 281 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement, 11-76, 1 TD. Receiving: James Casey, 7-101, 1 TD
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 15-33, 227 yds
Rushing:
Bernard Morris, 13-120, 2 TD. Receiving: Cody Slate, 3-41

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Finally, finally the Herd gets a win, but it wasn't exactly perfect. Considering there were 254 rushing yards against Rice, the offense didn't do enough to control the clock. 11 penalties for 119 yards is inexcusable, and the defense had too tough a time slowing down the Owl offense in the final 17 minutes, but a win is a win. There weren't any turnovers and there was good offensive balance. Now the key will be the run defense with a brutal three-game stretch against UCF, East Carolina and Houston ahead.

Oct. 21
Southern Miss 33 ... Marshall 24
Damion Fletcher ran for two first quarter touchdowns and Torris McGee caught an 85-yard touchdown pass as USM jumped out to a 21-0 lead. But Marshall fought back, despite turning it over four times, the Herd pulled within two in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard Darius Passmore catch. But the USM offense went back to work, going 91 yards in 13 plays with Fletcher scoring from two yards out to put it away.
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 30 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns, and caught four passes for 34 yards
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 20-38, 309 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Darius Marshall, 14-62, 1 TD. Receiving: Darius Passmore, 5-105, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 23-30, 310 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Damion Fletcher, 30-152, 3 TD. Receiving: Torris Magee, 7-156, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Marshall has to stop getting behind early. It's done a great job mounting comebacks over the last two weeks, but it doesn't have enough firepower to get over the hump. This isn't a good enough team to keep making mistakes, like the turnovers it kept giving up against Southern Miss, but it's so close to pulling off a win, it seems like one big play could finally turn things around. This is a better team than the 0-7 record.

Oct. 13
Tulsa 38 ... Marshall 31
Tulsa rolled up 578 yards of total offense with Paul Smith running for a one-yard score and throwing three touchdown passes, taking the lead for good on a 73-yard play to Brennan Marion with just over five minutes to play. Cody Slate caught a two-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 to play to get the Herd within seven, but Tulsa recovered the onside kick and held on. Tarrion Adams scored twice for the Golden Hurricane in the first half, but Marshall stayed alive with two Chubb Small touchdown runs and a four-yard Shawn Lauzon scoring grab.
Player of the game: Tulsa QB Paul Smith completed 24 of 39 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score.
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 21-37, 260 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Darius Marshall 13-63. Receiving: Cody Slate, 6-102, 1 TD
Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 24-39, 385 yds, 3 TD
Rushing:
Tarrion Adams, 15-134, 1 TD. Receiving: Tarrion Adams, 6-35, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... 0-6. Tulsa's offense might be blowing past everyone, and the Herd attack was decent this week, but the record is still an ugly 0-6 with Southern Miss up next. To have any hope against the Golden Eagles next week, the defense has to get more stops on third down and has to get off the field earlier. So what's going right? Tight end Cody Slate. In a tough year, he's one of the team's stars, deserving of All-Conference honor as both a receiver and a blocker.

Oct. 2
Memphis 24 ... Marshall 21
Playing just two days after the death of defensive tackle Taylor Bradford, Memphis got three Matt Reagan field goals and two second half touchdown passes from Will Hudgens to pull off the win. The two teams traded scores throughout, with Marshall getting a 20-yard Cody Slate touchdown catch for its first points, and a four-yard Darius Passmore scoring grab with 5:22 to play for the final points. The Herd's final drive got to the Memphis 41 before stalling.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Will Hudgens completed 30 of 45 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 30-45, 346 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
T.J. Pitts, 14-57. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 6-74
Marshall
- Passing: Bernard Morris, 23-32, 220 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Darius Marshall, 15-90, 1 TD. Receiving: Darius Passmore, 7-69, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Despite all the injuries and all the consistency issues, the Herd came up with a decent game in the loss to Memphis. This was a game it had to have, and now it's still winless with Tulsa and Southern Miss to follow. Bernard Morris was accurate, but he didn't get enough long passes, and things didn't open up for the ground game. Against almost everyone on the schedule the rest of the way, MU has to win the turnover battle and has to come up with more big plays. That hasn't happened so far.

Sept. 22
Cincinnati 40 ... Marshall 14
In an ugly game, Cincinnati overcame an intentional grounding call in the end zone for a safety with 26 straight first half points on two Marcus Barnett touchdown catches, a 17-yard Greg Moore scoring run, and a safety of its own off a fumble. Marshall tried to get back on the game with two Bernard Morris touchdowns passes, highlighted by a 33-yard throw to Darius Passmore, but the Bearcats scored the final 14 points wit a seven-yard Connor Barwin catch and a 42-yard Jacob Ramsey run. The two teams combined for 23 penalties for 186 yards.
Player of the game: Cincinnati QB Dustin Grutza completed 14 of 20 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns and ran six times for 28 yards.
Stat Leaders: Cincinnati - Passing: Dustin Grutza, 14-20, 142 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Greg Moore, 6-70, 1 TD. Receiving: Marcus Barnett, 6-77, 2 TD
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 20-30, 252 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Darius Marshall, 7-63. Receiving: Darius Passmore, 7-106, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... At the moment, this doesn't appear to be a well-coached team. 13 penalties for 106 yards against Cincinnati, breakdowns in the running game, and few big plays from the defense. The season couldn't have started any worse for the Thundering Herd, but on the plus side, the Conference USA season hasn't started yet. With a win over Memphis next week, things could quickly change. With Tulsa and Southern Miss to follow, beating the Tigers is a must. To do that, the offense has to figure out how to crank out a few long scoring drives.

Sept. 15
New Hampshire 48 ... Marshall 35
New Hampshire stunned Marshall with a 24-0 halftime lead highlighted by two two first quarter touchdowns from Robert Simpson, but the Hard managed to come back on two Kelvin Turner touchdown runs and an 80-yard Cody Slate touchdown. MU pulled within seven late in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard Darius Passmore touchdown catch, but UNH answered with a crushing 13 play, 70-yard drive that ate up 5:38 of fourth quarter clock, culminating in a two-yard Ricky Ward touchdown run to put the game away.

Player of the game:
New Hampshire QB Ricky Santos completed 23 of 33 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 13 times for 45 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: New Hampshire - Passing: Ricky Santos, 23-33, 289 yds, 3 TD
Rushing: Chris Ward, 19-99, 1 TD. Receiving: Scott Sicko, 6-78
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 31-42, 417 yds, 3 TD
Rushing:
Chubb Small, 5-45. Receiving: Cody Slate, 11-177, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Call it a sandwich game, call it a hangover from the West Virginia loss, call it looking ahead to Cincinnati, but
Marshall basically blew its chances at a winning season by not showing up against New Hampshire until it was too late. The offense bombed away with Bernard Morris having a great second half, but the defense couldn't come up with a late stop to finally turn the momentum. UNH was able to convert 11 of 16 third down chances.

Sept. 8
West Virginia 48 ... Marshall 23
West Virginia was shut down in the first half as Marshall held a 13-6 lead helped by a 38-yard Darius Passmore touchdown catch, and then the Mountaineer offense turned things up a notch. Darius Reynaud caught his second touchdown pass of the day on a 23-yard play, Pat White ran for a 20-yard score, and Steve Slaton and Noel Devine each ran for two scores in a 42 point second half. Marshall  stayed alive on a 42-yard Cody Slate touchdown catch, but a 21-0 Mountaineer run in the fourth quarter put it away.
Player of the game ... West Virginia QB Pat White completed 13 of 18 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns and ran 18 times for 125 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 19-29, 256 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Darius Marshall, 11-81  Receiving: Cody Slate, 5-82, 1 TD
West Virginia - Passing: Patrick White, 13-18, 149 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Steve Slaton, 24-146, 2 TD  Receiving: Darius Reynaud, 8-126, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Marshall might have ended up getting blown out by West Virginia, but there were a bunch of positive signs after an ugly season-opening performance against Miami. The defense, for just over a half, played extremely well, especially on the line, and Bernard Morris had a nice day throwing the ball. He didn't make many mistakes, and if he keeps playing like this, MU will win more than its share of C-USA games. Again, as crazy as it might sound after being blown out by 25, this was an overall step in the right direction.

Sept. 1
Miami 31 ... Marshall 3
Javarris James ran for touchdowns from five and eight yards out and Kirby Freeman connected with DahLeon Farr for a one-yard score as Miami easily blew past Marshall in head coach Randy Shannon's debut. The Herd was held to 51 rushing yards and only managed a fourth quarter 37-yard Anthony Biswanger field goal, but four turnovers and a variety of mistakes, helped caused by the Cane defense, never gave MU a chance. The Canes ran for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
Player of the game ... The Miami running back tandem of Graig Cooper and Javarris James combined for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 16-26, 162 yds, 3 INT
Rushing: Bernard Morris, 17-29  Receiving: Darius Marshall, 5-17
Miami - Passing: Kirby Freeman, 9-21, 81 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Graig Cooper, 12-116  Receiving: Lance Leggett, 4-31

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Miami has one of the nation's best defenses, so having so many problems on offense wasn't a shock. Marshall's big problem was how it shot itself in the foot time and again with four turnovers and 12 penalties. The defense did a nice job against the Hurricane passing game, but couldn't hold up against the run and should have a bigger nightmare of a time with the West Virginia ground attack next week. Basically, the Herd has to find offensive playmakers in a big hurry.

Sept. 1 – at Miami
Offense: After a miserably inconsistent year finishing 87th in the nation in both total and scoring offense, the attack needs to play up to its talent level. The backfield will be amazing with Javarris James and true freshman Graig Cooper each good enough star for just about anyone in the country. The line has potential with two good tackles in Jason Fox and Reggie Youngblood to work around, and now the passing game has to be far better. The Kyle Wright vs. Kirby Freeman quarterback battle will be an ongoing debate, and the receiving corps has to step up and be better. Lance Leggett emerging as a true number one target would be a start.
Defense: The defense finished seventh in the nation last year despite not getting any help from the offense. The starting 11 should be good enough to shut everyone down, but there will be early concerns with the depth on the defensive line and the secondary. Safety Kenny Phillips and end Calais Campbell might be the two best defensive players in the nation, and everything will revolve around them; they must stay healthy. The linebacking corps might not have name stars, but it'll be a rock against the run with a good rotation of talents.


Sept. 8 - West Virginia
Offense: Unlike most schools that run the spread offense, West Virginia aims to open lanes for its prolific ground game, rarely putting the ball in the air more than 20 times a game.  The Mountaineers want the ball in the hands of its two junior Heisman candidates, quarterback Patrick White and running back Steve Slaton.  Along with receiver Darius Reynaud, they form the fastest offensive trio in America, and are threats for six with even a hint of daylight.  White is an underrated passer that rarely misses his target, but needs more help from a receiving corps that’s suspect after Reynaud.  Few schools rebuild on the offensive line better than West Virginia, but how will the unit react without its long-time quarterback Dan Mozes and long-time coach Rick Trickett?
Defense: Lost in all the yards the Mountaineer offense gained in 2006 was all the yards the defense allowed.  West Virginia allowed 35 or more points three times last fall and was torched through the air repeatedly over the second half of the year.  Worse, this once relentless defense had trouble getting to the quarterback and looked a step slow.  Rich Rodriguez is banking on a few tweaks to the back eight and an influx of faster players as the solutions in the team’s 3-3-5 stack formation.  Led by playmaking senior safety Eric Wicks, the secondary has a glut of really talented athletes that need to gel into a cohesive unit.

Sept. 15 – New Hampshire

Sept. 22 – at Cincinnati
Offense: Take whatever you knew about last year’s Cincy offense and delete it.  Nothing will be the same, as Brian Kelly and his staff dismantle Mark Dantonio’s plodding run game in favor of a fancy spread attack.  There’ll be growing pains, to be sure, but by mid-season, there should also be improvement if a consistent quarterback, such as Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk, develops and the line adjusts to a zone blocking scheme.  A receiving corps that’s led by juniors Derrick Stewart, Dominick Goodman and Connor Barwin has a chance to blow up in the new system. 

Oct. 2 – at Memphis
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Oct. 13 – at Tulsa
Offense: Can Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at this level … take two.  All the buzz about Malzahn’s fancy playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at Arkansas, Tulsa coach Tood Graham is on board and prepared to see all of the offense’s bell and whistles.  The system aims to control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents, and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters.  Senior quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of receivers will be two major stumbling blocks.  When the Hurricane runs the ball, it’ll turn to senior Courtney Tennial and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in Conference USA.   
Defense: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers you’ve never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.

Oct. 21 - Southern Miss
Offense: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The “Nasty Bunch” defense that’s become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation’s top ranked units in 2007.  It’s fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there’s a weak link on defense it’s in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Oct. 27 - Rice
Offense: Todd Graham and his staff are gone, but the spread attack is alive and well at Rice, good news for an offense that returns its starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver.  Although Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard will be a familiar phrase this fall, the Owls are also developing a bunch of good-looking, young pass-catchers that are ready to contribute.  The quest for offensive balance, however, won’t be so easy now that underappreciated running back Quinton Smith has exhausted his eligibility.  Last year was a painful transition for the offensive line, but with four starters back and a full year in the system, there are no excuses for not being much better in pass protection.   
Defense: In an attempt to bolster a run defense that allowed more than 300 yards to five straight opponents in 2006, Rice is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5.  The move puts another big body in the box, but also puts an enormous burden on a line that lost three of last year’s best linemen to graduation.  The new scheme encourages constant pressure from a back seven that boasts the young athletes, such as junior linebacker Brian Raines and sophomore safety Andrew Sendejo, to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Lost in last year’s statistically awful season was the fact that the opportunistic Owls paced Conference USA in turnovers and sacks.

Nov. 3 – at UCF
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He’s as good as any back in the league when he’s healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don’t expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF’s collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O’Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.

Nov. 10 - East Carolina
Offense: Skip Holtz likes to spread the field out and turn his quarterback loose, but with the battery of James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison gone, the Pirates will put more emphasis on the ground game.  That means extra carries this year for versatile senior Chris Johnson and his young understudies, Dominique Lindsay and Norman Whitley.  While strong-armed sophomore Rob Kass will replace Pinkney behind center, an adequate replacement for Allison will be much tougher to find.  Look for the quarterback to utilize a group of tight ends that has the potential to be as good as any in Conference USA.  For ECU to improve on last season’s weak offensive output, the veteran line needs to give Kass an extra second or two in the pocket and create more daylight for the backs.        
Defense: If the Pirate defensive line doesn’t outright dominate at times this season, heads will roll at the end of the year.  There’s way too much talent and depth on this unit for it not to make a quantum leap from 2006.  Junior end Marcus Hands, in particular, has the size and quickness to be special after underachieving last fall.  Penetration up front figures to help a secondary that’s easily the weak link of this defense.  Three starters, including both corners, need to be replaced from a group that was one of the underrated team strengths for the past two seasons.

Nov. 17 – at Houston
Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense.

Nov. 24 - UAB
Offense: From the staff and the system to the personnel, the offense will be getting a complete facelift in 2007.  Nothing will look the same which isn’t such a bad thing considering how poorly the unit executed last season.  New coordinator Kim Helton is installing a pro-style attack that sprinkles in some no-huddle and option calls, but realizes he’ll have to tailor the first-year playbook to the talent he inherits.  All eyes in August will be on the continuing quarterback battle between senior Sam Hunt and sophomore Joseph Webb, a potential savior once he gets up to speed.  Whether or not the offense climbs out of the Conference USA cellar will depend heavily on the maturation of a rebuilt line that’s replacing four senior starters. 
Defense: While the back seven of the defense figures to be a strength in 2007, you might not know it unless the defensive line can effectively replace three key starters from last year.  Senior end Brandon Jeffries will be productive, but after him, UAB is feverishly searching for answers to prevent opposing passers from having all day to throw.  Junior college transfer Antonio Forbes is being counted on to deliver right out of the gate at tackle.  The linebackers have a budding star in junior Joe Henderson and senior free safety Will Dunbar is one of just a handful of Blazer defenders with all-league potential.



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