Know Thy Opponent 2012: Marshall Thundering Herd

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Rakeem Cato #12 of the Marshall Thundering rushes upfield against the Florida International University Panthers December 20, 2011 in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Marshall won 20 - 10. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Got a few bucks to spend? Bovada has released its first odds on the college football season to come. Our Boilermakers did not make the list of teams with odds to win the National champions, so we're officially off the board, kids! Boston College, Oregon State, Louisville, BYU, and UCLA are listed as having better odds than us to win the National Title.

Ouch!

In the Big Ten We're at least given 50/1 odds of winning the conference better than only Indiana and Minnesota If I were a Minnesota fan I'd be pretty pissed that IU has better odds of winning the Big Ten than Minnesota. Purdue is a 10/1 underdog to win the Leaders Division, with Wisconsin the heavy favorite.

Of course, for Purdue to ever get into the National title hunt we would need to have a perfect run through the non-conference portion of the schedule, which has not happened since 2007. In fact, we haven't gotten out of the non-conference part of the schedule with less than two losses since 2007. Our final opponent is a team that I think presents the most likely chance for us to gack away a game in Rice-like fashion.

Marshal Thundering Herd

2011 Record: 7-6

Bowl Result: Beat Florida International 20-10 in Beef O'Brady's Bowl

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Blog Representation: Marshall Thundering Blog

Last Season for the Thundering Herd

First off, this is the next non-conference, non-Notre Dame home and home, as we head to face Marshall on their field in 2015. Last season, as they have done since moving to Conference USA, Randy Moss U. played a decent non-conference schedule. They beat Conference USA champion Southern Miss and Big East co-champ Louisville, but also had some pretty awful losses. Ohio curbstomped them 44-7 and Houston is still completing passes in their 63-28 win. A 59-14 win over UAB was followed by a 59-17 loss to Tulsa.

The Herd did reach a bowl game, however, winning their regular season finale 34-27 in overtime over East Carolina to reach (and win) the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. The last three seasons have been very similar as they have gone 7-6, 5-7, and 7-6 for a dead even 20-20 mark over the last 40 games. Their last Big Ten opponent was a 45-7 loss in the 2010 opener at Ohio State.

Marshall Offense:

We should be thankful we're playing Marshall at home in 2012 instead of 2014. Rakeem Cato has the look of being the type of player that thrives as a smaller school for three or four years in a starter's role and officially scares the bejesus out of teams as a senior. He started nine games and played in all 13 as a true freshman at quarterback last season. He proceeded to complete 60% of his passes for 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns against 11 picks, making him a fairly efficient quarterback for a guy that was playing against high school teams a year earlier.

Cato is definitely the starter after A.J. Graham, who started the other four games, was dismissed from the team in March. Graham was more of a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 237 yards and three scores. He was also a Florida Mr. Football like Robert Marve. He rushed for 129 yards and two scores in his first start against Rice, which was significant because he took the starting job away from Cato. He lost it due to a shoulder injury against Tulsa, however, so Cato was no guaranteed starter before his dismissal.

The running game is two-headed like our own. Instead of Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers we'll see Tron Martinez and Travon Van. The two split carries virtually evenly to rush for 1,200 yards and six touchdowns at four yards per carry. Simply put, they are the Marshall running game, as no one else had more than 100 yards on the year (outside of Graham).

Receiver Aaron Dobson returns after catching 49 passes for 228 yards and an astounding 12 touchdowns. More than half of the team's receiving touchdowns went to Dobson, and one in four of his catches went to the end zone with a long of 77. The 6'3" 204 pound senior will be the No. 1 target on every passing play. Antavious Wilson (29-462-1) and Gator Hoskins (14-123-3) will be the next two targets, but Marshall likes to spread the ball around. Nine different players averaged more than one catch per game last year, but none had more than 50. The simple equation is that Dobson catches touchdowns, while everyone else moves the ball.

We should have an advantage on the defensive line with the Herd losing three offensive linemen as starters. Center Chris Jasperse and guard Garrett Scott are the lone returning starters and both at 6'4" and close to 300 pounds. Jordan Jeffries likely will get a tackle spot with a big 6'7" 305 pound frame.

Marshall Defense

Dom LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoraho both transferred in from boston College and will be immediately eligible as defensive backs to help fill in for the departure of the top four tacklers. Okoraho did not play last season, however, after getting dismissed from the team. LeGrande also did not play last year, but started six games way back in 2009. Both players are expected to start as the safeties.

Overall the Marshall defense was not that great last year. They gave up 255 yards per game through the air and good passing teams like Tulsa and Houston shredded them. It is my hope that we have a starting quarterback picked by this point and he can get in a rhythm for a great game.

The run defense also struggled, giving up 150 yards per game and 19 touchdowns. Devin Arrington returns after getting 77 tackles and two interceptions. Monterius Lovett is also a top performer with 53 tackles and two picks at cornerback.

The graduation of Vinny Curry on the defensive line is a Ryan Kerrigan-like loss. Curry only had 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and seven forced fumbles a year ago. Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve, and the rest of our backfield wish him well. Top blitzing linebacker George Carpenter is also gone. As are interceptions leaders Rashad Jackson and Omar Brown.

Marques Aiken and Jeremiah Taylor are two players expected to play much larger roles due to the losses. Aiken is a defensive linesman that needs to be more of a pass rusher, while Taylor will play a bigger role at linebacker. We need to be concerned that Marshall excelled at creating turnover last year. They intercepted 14 passes and recovered 15 fumbles.

Marshall Special Teams:

Justin Haig was primarily a kickoff specialist last season, but he will take over the main kicking duties after going 1 of 2 on field goal attempts. This kid does not have a big leg, as he only had one touchback. That means a guy like Raheem Mostert can be a major factor in this game. Marshall already gave up a kickoff for a touchdown last year, so look for Raheem to have a chance or two.

Austin Dumas will be the new punter as they lost their starter there due to graduation. Andre Booker is a dangerous punt returner with a 10.8 per return average and an 87 yard punt return for a score. Booker s also their main kick return guy.

Game Outlook:

On paper this looks like a game where we can have a very good offensive day. The Marshall offense has weapons, but was incredibly inconsistent last season. Just look at what happened last year. In three straight weeks they lost 63-28, won 59-14, and lost 59-17. They have all the marks of being a schizophrenic team.

Of course, our Boilers aren't exactly the model of consistency in recent years. This still has to be a game we win, however. Marshall is the toughest opponent we face in a non-conference home game and given the brutality of a four games in five weeks on the road stretch in the Big Ten later on, this has to be a bankable win to reach a bowl game. We cannot afford another Northern Illinois/Toledo/Rice letdown.

To be honest, Dobson terrifies me. We always struggle with big, strong receivers that can dominate our smaller corners. This will be a major test for Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson, possibly the toughest one of the non-conference season. If he can move the chains effectively on third downs their running game is more than capable of gaining 5-8 yards on the first two.

Prediction:

For some reason I am thinking offensive slugfest here. They have the balance that can keep our defense guess and Dobson has that, "Dammit, how did we leave him wide open over the middle on third and five AGAIN?" vibe. Their defense isn't that good though. Expect lots of points. Purdue 38, Marshall 31

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