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Herd the exception in MAC offenses

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

Most college football teams dream about putting up 52 points and 447 passing yards

by halftime. Marshall coach Bob Pruett knows his team is

capable of doing that every game.

Two days after the most productive half in school history, Pruett acknowledged the Thundering Herd aren't likely to repeat their first-half performance this week against Troy State. The Trojans are ranked No. 13 in the nation in total defense. But the capacity to do it again is there.

"We're averaging 600 yards a game," Pruett said. "That's a lot of yards. But you have to be concerned about (complacency), because it could come back. You have a challenge every week. No one cares what you did last week."

Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich wasn't the only Mid-American Conference offensive player to have eye-popping numbers.

Miami's Ben Roethlisberger set the MAC record for completions in a game with 41, breaking his own mark from last year. He and Leftwich were named co-MAC East Division Players of the Week. Roethlisberger also had 525 yards passing, second-best in MAC history and tops in a league game.

This bested Leftwich by 78 yards. But the RedHawks lost, 48-41, to Northern Illinois.

Not to be outdone, Huskies running back Michael Turner was named the MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week. He ran for 222 yards and a MAC record-tying five touchdowns on only 20 carries. This included scoring runs of 73, 31 and 15 yards in just 7:55 to bring the Huskies from a 27-7 deficit to a 27-27 tie.

Leftwich and Roethlisberger, two predominantly passing quarterbacks, are the exception rather than the rule in the MAC. Most MAC offenses are geared around the running game, producing five of the country's top 17 runners.

With 1,094 yards, Turner is the first running back in the country to eclipse the century mark this year. He's No. 2 in yards per game. Kent State's Josh Cribbs is No. 3, Ime Akpan of Eastern Michigan ranks No. 6, Central Michigan's Robbie Mixon is No. 9 and Marcus Merriweather of Ball State ranks No. 17.

"Different conferences are known for different styles of offense," Chippewas coach Mike DeBord said. "Midwestern football is known for running the football, because you have to late in the year with the weather."

n DIVISION RACE HEATING UP: With Marshall's win and Miami's loss Saturday, the Herd (3-0) are now in sole possession of first place in the East. But they have two teams breathing down their neck.

Both the RedHawks and Ohio Bobcats sit a game back at 2-1, and with Marshall playing out of conference this week, that lead could shrink to a half-game.

The Bobcats have surged back after starting the season 0-4, including a road loss to Connecticut and an embarrassing 31-0 home loss to Division I-AA Northeastern. They lost at Bowling Green 72-21 two weeks ago but have sandwiched in victories over Buffalo and Eastern Michigan.

"The big thing is, 18-22 year-olds are so resilient," Ohio coach Brian Knorr said. "They bounce back from media, alumni and fans. It's tough in the manner you lose two weeks ago. You get it from everywhere."

n TIME CHANGE: Marshall's road game at Akron on Nov. 2 has been moved up to 3 p.m. to accommodate TV. The original kickoff time was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The game will be on regional Fox Sports Net channels, including Fox Sports Ohio and Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

n RANKED FALCONS: After beating Central Michigan 45-35, Bowling Green finally has cracked the Top 25. The Falcons are undefeated at 5-0 and are ranked No. 25. They're the first MAC team to have a national ranking since the Herd, ranked No. 16, lost to Virginia Tech and fell out of the polls.

But coach Urban Meyer says his team doesn't act like one that's nationally ranked.

"We do a lot of things not by the book," he said. "People say don't do this or don't do that. But now, we're shouting from the top of the mountain."

n IN THEIR FACE: Trash-talking against UCF isn't just coming from Marshall any more. After comments over the summer, including referring to the MAC as the "Midwestern Conference," the MAC's newest member received a rude welcome from Western Michigan in its first MAC road game.

Several Bronco players went helmet to helmet with the Golden Knights after the whistle on a few occasions. UCF coach Mike Kruczek isn't taking it personally, calling his team "the young people."

"We've tried to put that underneath the carpet," Kruczek said. "We'd probably do the same thing. But our kids are not going to back down."

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at rpeirce@exponent-telegram.com.

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