Transfer QB Birdsong ready to lead Marshall against Purdue
Birdsong sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules and had to pay his own travel expenses to see four-year starter Rakeem Cato finish out a 13-1 season in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Now it's time for Birdsong, who started every game for the Dukes in the 2013 season, throwing for 2,728 yards and 22 touchdowns with 15 interceptions, before transferring in April 2014.
At Marshall, throwing for 3,000-plus yards has become an expectation, at least with Cato, and before him Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington.
''A big reason why I came is because I knew the long line of great quarterbacks who came out of the school,'' Birdsong said.
And yet he relies on the advice his coaches gave him: ''Don't try to be any of them. And I agree. You can't be anybody else.''
His last game against an opponent from a major conference was as a James Madison freshman in 2012 in a blowout loss to West Virginia.
This time, he anticipates a different feel.
''It's going to be pretty sweet when Purdue comes to your home turf,'' Birdsong said.
Some other things to watch for Sunday when Purdue and Marshall play:
OFFENSIVE QUESTIONS: Purdue, which lost its final six games of 2014, hopes to answer some early questions on offense, starting with quarterback Austin Appleby. He's the fifth different Purdue quarterback to start a season in the last five years. Appleby started the final seven games last year. He had one 250-yard passing game a year ago, completed 53 percent of his throws and had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). ''I'm very confident right now in Austin,'' said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell.
NEW RBs: Purdue's top two running backs have yet to carry the ball in a college game. Sophomore D.J. Knox played on special teams a year ago and will get the start on Sunday, backed up by freshman Markell Jones.
D-LINE DIS: Purdue's defensive front includes 300-pound nose tackle Ryan Watson, who led the team with four sacks last season. But it's going to takes a lot to impress Marshall running back Devon Johnson, who likes to block for his quarterback and points to his own offensive line for opening holes that let him rush for 1,767 yards in 2014. ''We know they're going to have some big players,'' Johnson said. ''I'll take my o-line over any defensive line in the country. I wouldn't trade them for the world.''
POWER 5 AT HOME: Purdue is the first Big Ten team to play at Marshall, a rare visit for a school from a Power 5 conference. The last one was Virginia Tech in 2011. Before that it was West Virginia in 2010 and 2007 and Kansas State in 2005. All those were losses.
FAMILIAR FACES: Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg was Purdue's co-offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007. He also coached the Boilermakers' offensive linemen from 2003 to 2005. Purdue wide receivers coach Gerad Parker held the same position at Marshall in 2011-12. And Appleby's younger brother, Jake, is a redshirt freshman on Marshall's golf team.