Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Miami returns to hostile ground
Crucial game affects teams' bowl hopes
By Mark Schmetzer
There's no question that Miami purged itself of a lot of football frustration with its convincing 45-6 win over Marshall on national television last season.
But the RedHawks still have some questions to answer regarding their rivalry with the Thundering Herd. Can they win at Huntington, W.Va.? Can they beat Marshall without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback?
If they want to prove they can, they're running out of time. Tonight's game at Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium is the last against Miami in the Mid-American Conference for the Thundering Herd, which has dominated the league since rejoining in 1997.
Marshall, which is leaving for Conference USA, won the MAC title in its first four years in the league and five out of six before being dethroned by Miami last season.
"For years, the championship went through Oxford," Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. "Then it got diverted to Huntington. Now, it's back in Miami, and we intend to keep it there."
To do so, the RedHawks no doubt will have to overcome a rabid Marshall crowd fueled by the memories of Miami's last visit to Huntington. The RedHawks overcame two double-figure deficits to take a 34-29 lead with 6:33 left in the game, but Marshall quarterback Stan Hill, filling in for the injured Byron Leftwich, scrambled for a one-yard touchdown run with five seconds left in the game to give the Herd a 36-34 win.
Miami's frustration with a fifth consecutive loss to Marshall boiled over in linebackers coach Taver Johnson punching a hole in the press box wall and defensive coordinator Jon Wauford being arrested and charged with assault after an altercation with a fan celebrating on the field. Wauford eventually resigned and Johnson left for a job with the Cleveland Browns.
"That's something you don't expect to be a part of and never want to be a part of again," Hoeppner said.
"Every game has emphasis," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said while comparing the rivalry with Miami his team's relationship with other MAC schools. "I don't think we can afford to emphasize any conference game over another. Yes, it's a big ballgame, but it's the next one. I'm not downplaying it, but we have to step up and play every week in this league."
Despite an 0-3 record against tough non-conference opponents, Marshall brings the MAC's top total and rushing defense into its conference opener. Miami is among the league's top four teams in total, rushing and passing defense as well as top scoring and passing offense.
Tonight's game is the earliest the two teams have met since Marshall rejoined the league.
"I'll guarantee you none of the players are asking why this game is being played early in the season," Hoeppner said. "It doesn't matter. We're going to Huntington, and they're the next tea m we have to check off our list. We play well on the road, and we're going to go into the game with a lot of confidence."
Miami at Marshall