Bulls Look to Stymie Leftwich's Aerial Assault
The Associated Press' game stories on each of the Marshall University football team's three victories this season have begun almost exactly the same way: "Quarterback Byron Leftwich threw for (insert some obscene amount of touchdown passes here), and (insert ridiculous amount of yardage here), as the Marshall Thundering Herd topped (insert overmatched opponent here) Saturday."
The UB Bulls will try to alter AP's formula when they take their shot at Leftwich and the Thundering Herd tomorrow at 1 p.m. at UB Stadium.
Easier said than done.
Marshall's 6'6" junior quarterback is being touted by the Herd as a Heisman Trophy candidate. And why not? Leftwich has compiled the 11th-highest QB rating in the nation - and first in the MAC - while leading one of the conference's most potent offenses. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns in four games, and has just two interceptions.
"What we've seen so far is what many are saying and that is that he is one of the premier quarterbacks in America," said UB Head Coach Jim Hofher.
"He'll probably be the best [quarterback] we face all year," said UB defensive end Chris Shelly.
Leftwich's favorite target is flanker Darius Watts. The 6'2" sophomore ranks third in the nation in receiving yards per game, fifth in scoring, and 14th in receptions per game.
Watts is currently facing a charge of malicious wounding stemming from a Sept. 29 fight. He insists he was not involved in the altercation, but turned himself into police Oct. 8.
Watts will continue to play until his case is heard. No date for the hearing has been released.
Perhaps the most excited man in Buffalo this weekend will be Franklin Wallace. Marshall's sophomore running back has not put up big numbers this year, but has the opportunity to pad his stats tomorrow against the Bulls, who have one of the nation's worst run defenses.
Shelly cited execution as the main reason that UB has faired so poorly against the run this season, not coaching.
"We play a one-gap defense; everybody has to be in their gap for us to succeed," said Shelly. "If someone is out of their gap, that's where the run is going to go."
Marshall, the defending MAC and Motor City Bowl Champions, stand at 3-1 this season, and are chasing Akron for first place in the MAC East Division. The Herd's only loss came on opening night in against the University of Florida Gators, who are currently ranked as the number one team in the nation in the AP coaches' poll.
The Bulls will face a 4-4 defense for the second-straight home game.
Senior inside linebacker Max Yates anchors the Marshall defense. Yates leads the MAC with 52 tackles and is a candidate for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's best linebacker.
"They are often in a 4-4 front, so obviously they want to stop the run," said Bulls running back Marquis Dwarte. "But a defensive scheme is only as good as how well it is run. We can only be concerned with what we are going to do and how we are going to do it."
UB currently ranks last in the MAC in rushing offense per game.
Marshall is favored by 25 points, but the Bulls are no strangers to the underdog role this season.
"We have to go in to games realizing that we don't have anything to lose," said Bulls quarterback Joe Freedy.
The Bulls' seniors are looking forward to playing in their final homecoming game.
"There is a different kind of excitement in the air; usually you draw more people," said Freedy.
"It adds a little more excitement to the game," Shelly said. "It brings a little more pride in to play. You're playing for somebody."