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To redshirt or not to redshirt?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- NOT MUCH more need be penned about Marshall's 55-0 win over a glorified scout team from North Carolina.

The pounding of Gardner-Webb - the Thundering Herd's highest margin of victory since 2000, when it drubbed Southeast Missouri State 63-7 - was good to get a bunch of players some live snaps.

That includes safety Tiquan Lang and receiver Josh Knight. They became the fifth and sixth true freshmen to hit the field for the Herd, the 29th and 30th in the four-season Doc Holliday era.

Is that a lot, or about average? Keep in mind that 13 trues played in Holliday's first season of 2010, a number I found quite surprising. Side note: Six of them have since left the program.

I bring that up with the Herd's impending trip to Ohio, an 8 p.m. Saturday bout at Peden Stadium. As you know, the Herd has suffered two straight setbacks against the Bobcats, including that 44-7 mess in 2011 at Athens.

A check of the Bobcats' roster shows 20 - two-zero - redshirt seniors. Let's qualify that a little: Three are junior-college transfers, one transferred from Florida State and one more came in from North Carolina State.

But that's impressive and so is this: Fifteen are listed as starters or co-starters. That's more than Marshall's 11 redshirt seniors (starting and reserve), which is about the most you'll see on a Holliday roster.

Clearly, Ohio coach Frank Solich has committed to keeping his first-year freshmen off the field, giving them a year with the program. That philosophy may correspond with his 60-45 record over eight seasons, with three Mid-American Conference division titles - not-so-ordinary numbers when you examine the program's middling history.

Solich had 15 fifth-year seniors last year, and I thought veteran leadership made a difference in the Bobcats' 27-24 victory at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Such leadership was clearly an issue in the 2011 game, for the Herd didn't have much of it that night.

Marshall has improved greatly in the leadership department, I am thinking. Several of the players who were pressed into service as newbies have become juniors and seniors - Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler, Gator Hoskins, Garrett Scott and Brandon Sparrow come to mind.

Arguably, all five were needed when they arrived. The Herd probably could have used Evan McKelvey and A.J. Leggett last year and D.J. Hunter in 2011. All three would have played if not for injury (McKelvey as a second-year sophomore), but their redshirts make them currently a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a sophomore, respectively.

That's a combined seven years' eligibility left instead of four. Doesn't that sound more promising?

Neither Solich nor Holliday take a poll on their decisions, believe me. Doc says plainly that if he thinks a new freshman can help the Herd win this season, that man is playing. Period, end of story.

It seemed a little crazy that Lang and Knight officially lost their redshirt in the Gardner-Webb game, but I do recall Holliday declaring in August that both would play. Good game to get their feet wet, right?

So Holliday has played receivers Justin Hunt and Knight, center Michael Selby, defensive backs Michael Johnson and Lang, plus that touchback machine, kicker Amareto Curraj. Linebacker Stefan Houston is the next candidate, maybe the last.

So which philosophy is superior? Saturday's game may or may not determine that, but it will make an interesting case study.

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  • The one near-even battle in the Gardner-Webb game came in the middle, where MU center Chris Jasperse had his hands full with a nose tackle noted simply as O.J. Mau. (full name O.J. Le'iatua Mau). Listed at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, this sophomore has a bright future.

    Mau was clearly G-W's best athlete and he proved it against Jasperse & Co. He recorded six tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry, numbers tough to get as a nose tackle in a base 3-4.

    The game will give the Herd some teaching video for the next time it faces a base three-man front, though that won't happen until the season finale. Amazingly, East Carolina is the only other team on the Herd schedule running an "odd" front, and the Pirates use 322-pound Terry Williams to clog up the middle.

    "It was good," Jasperse said of his battle with Mau. "They talked him up all week; he was a good player. But we handled him tonight, and my guards helped me out a lot and that's all we had to do. We just tried to wear him down and take advantage once they got tired.  

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  • Not that many years ago, I could never have envisioned the state of television in this fine decade of the '10s. Let's see ... we have "Duck Dynasty," "Storage Wars," "Redneck Island" and a football game on ESPNews.

    Yes, that's where the Marshall-Ohio game shall be aired. Channel 502 on Suddenlink here in the Kanawha Valley, if you've got it. (And remember, we may have supernatural powers in the Gazette Sports Department, but we cannot get the game on your television.)

    That will add yet another network to the Herd's TV history, joining ESPN, CBS, ESPN2, Fox, ABC, Fox Sports Net, CSTV/CBS College Sports/CBS Sports, CSTV on i, ESPNU, FX and Fox College Sports. Throw in Comcast/Whatever Sports Southeast, Internet-based ESPN 3 and the Big Ten Network, and that's at least 14 different outlets over the years.

    That leaves Fox Sports 1 and 2, ESPN Classic and Fox Espanol to conquer. Throw in A&E and The Weather Channel and then the MU program will have arrived.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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