GWU travels to face FBS opponent
Just when Gardner-Webb’s football team had the opportunity to relish a season-opening win, here comes the Thundering Herd.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-0), which staged a come-from-behind 28-21 win over Furman last week, will hit the road to face Marshall (1-0).
The Thundering Herd scored 38 second-half points en route to a 52-14 beating of Miami (Ohio) last week.
It has the potential to present all kinds of problems for GWU first-year head coach Carroll McCray.
“The Marshall program looks as if they are fielding a team that is long and lean,” McCray said. “They are athletic on defense and you can really pick that out.”
More than the defense, it will be the Marshall offense will have to keep off the field.
Junior quarterback Rakeem Cato could be the best quarterback Gardner-Webb has faced since 2009 when they took on North Carolina State and prolific quarterback, and current Seattle Seahawks starter Russell Wilson.
Last year, Cato led Division I quarterbacks in completions and passing yards per game. Not to mention the five touchdowns he threw for against Miami last week.
Cato’s favorite target on the field is no slouch either. Tommy Shuler caught 110 passes for 1,138 yards last season for the Thundering Herd.
If they aren’t passing the football, Marshall can rely on a balanced running attack that hit Miami for 304 yards on 54 carries last week.
“They have a very dynamic quarterback and some very good receivers that can gain ground very quickly,” McCray said. “They let the run game play a positive for them and that allowed their quarterback to pick and choose where he wanted to go.”
In order to keep the Marshall offense off the field, the Runnin’ Bulldog offense will have to contain a Thundering Herd defense that returns three All-Conference linemen in Jeremiah Taylor, Brandon Sparrow and Alex Bazzie.
This defensive front helped pitch a shutout in the second half against Miami.
“When I see them up front, they are very athletic,” McCray said. “What I saw is if you stay on them, they don’t block long because they don’t have to.”
For Gardner-Webb, it will come down to getting beneficial match-ups, especially using wide receiver Kenny Cook and his 6-foot-5 frame to provide quarterback Lucas Beatty with a valid target to move the football downfield.
“Kenny (Cook) is very important to us because we can get good match ups,” McCray said. “But, Marshall does a really good job and they will do a good job knowing where Kenny is.”
If that doesn’t work, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will turn to the running game and redshirt junior Juanne Blount. Blount turned in 162 yards on 28 carries and is the reigning Big South Offensive Player of the Week.
“They have confidence in their young men so they can really match up,” McCray said. “Everything was tied together and I didn’t see many mistakes on the field.”
But, with a young offensive front, Beatty may have trouble getting time in the pocket to make audible decisions.
“If we get one-handed and get behind the chains, it may be a little difficult for us,” McCray said.
BULLDOG NOTES: Gardner-Webb is 1-8 against FBS opponents with its lone win coming in 2011 with a 38-37 overtime victory at Akron … This will be the first time the Runnin’ Bulldogs have faced a team from Conference USA in football … GWU will welcome the return of cornerback Ivan Toomer, who was out last season with a redshirt.