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Marshall Hopes UNH 'Lesson' Learned For Illinois State
HUNTINGTON — Reporter’s questions sometimes can be leading, albeit unintentionally.
Marshall University tight end Lee Smith recently was answering a series of routine offseason questions. How are players meshing with two new coordinators? How about weight room and conditioning attendance?
Then came the schedule. Smith was asked about another challenging run of non-conference matchups highlighted in part by the Sept. 6 meeting at Wisconsin.
“No, not Wisconsin,” Smith quickly countered. “Illinois State is first.”
Indeed, the Division I-AA (or whatever it’s now called) Redbirds visit Joan C. Edwards Stadium Aug. 30 for both teams’ season openers. From the Thundering Herd coaching staff to the roster, last season’s tough message has been absorbed.
Quality I-AA program New Hampshire raced to a 24-0 halftime lead en route to a shocking 48-35 victory at Edwards Stadium. A handful of I-A teams also were victimized by I-AA upsets last season, narrowing the focus entering 2008.
“In today’s age of 85 scholarships you can’t look past anybody,” Marshall coach Mark Snyder said. “Appalachian State showed that last year (the eventual I-AA champion famously knocked off Michigan in ’07).
“Illinois State has a very good head coach and they’ve been very successful.”
ISU dipped to a 4-7 mark last year, finishing fifth in the Gateway Conference under veteran coach Denver Johnson (45-46 in eight years at Normal, Ill.). Thirteen starters return, but real question marks are dotted throughout the roster.
Three of four secondary starters are back, and the defensive line — like Marshall’s — should return to form after multiple injuries last season.
Eight of the Redbirds’ top nine receivers are back, along with top rusher Geno Blow. He posted five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including a top performance of 167 against Northern Iowa, before being sidelined with a fractured left hand.
Now for the question marks.
Three-year starting quarterback Luke Drone — a three-time All-Gateway selection — was an offensive constant during his career. His likely replacement, Kevin Brockway (Drone’s three-year backup), has attempted just five career passes.
He’ll cut starter’s teeth behind a line that returns just two starters. The unit’s dominant presence, left tackle Isiah Wiggins, is gone to graduation, leaving Chris Riley (one career start) to protect Brockway’s blind side.
Last year’s squad opened 4-4, but lost its final three games – all to top 25 teams. As Snyder mentioned, however, ISU does own a strong tradition. At least one Illinois State player has earned All American honors in 22 of the past 25 seasons; linebacker Kye Stewart (also lost to graduation) became the sixth straight ISU defender to lead the Gateway Conference in tackles last season.
Both in the media and Thundering Herd meeting rooms, Illinois State will be further dissected throughout the summer. Regardless, Marshall already appears properly focused on Aug. 30’s 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
“You can’t look past anybody,” Smith said. “Lesson learned.”
Herd: Last year’s lesson applies to Illinois St.
By Anthony Hanshew, Huntington Herald-Dispatch