July 16, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Doc has provided an offseason prescription for what ailed Marshall Football last season, and he’s heard about the presumed prognosis for 2013.
So, asked about the various glowing forecasts for Thundering Herd success in Conference USA in his fourth season, MU Coach Doc Holliday grins.
“I think Phil Steele must be trying to help us sell tickets,” Holliday said, referring to the preview magazine publisher who projects the Herd as the nation’s most improved team, and a C-USA title game participant landing a Liberty Bowl appearance.
Forecasts from other predictors are similar. USA Today is counting down and ranking all 125 FBS teams, and Nos. 51-125 have been revealed without Marshall -- meaning the publication has the Herd in the top 50. Steele has MU at No. 38. The Herd already has four players named to preseason national award watch lists. Less than three weeks before Marshall opens preseason camp (Aug. 5), Holliday is happy about the level to where his program has progressed.
“I think the expectations are good,’ the Herd coach said earlier this week in his Shewey Building office overlooking Edwards Stadium, where Marshall will open Aug. 31 against longtime rival Miami (Ohio).
“I’ve said many times I don’t want to be a place where the expectations aren’t extremely high. If it’s not important to the fan base and the community, I don’t want to be there.
“Here, it sure is, and that’s not a bad thing at all. That said, the bottom line is ‘potential’ gets you beat. ‘Production’ wins football games. Just because you feel like you’re good … there’s a lot of work to do before that first football game to make sure we’re prepared to go play, a lot we have to accomplish between now and then.”
With six new assistant coaches, the Herd needed to fix its defense to complement a vibrant, chains-moving offense that was one of the nation’s best last season and has most of its pieces back. New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater brought in what Holliday wanted in spring practice.
Now, the Herd needs to figure out how to get from the 5-7 record of a year ago to the kind of success predicted by those pundits, some of whom are forecasting double-digit wins for a program that hasn’t started 2-0 since a 13-0 finish in 1999.
“I’ve said all along, everyone talks about how we did some really good things on offense a year ago and that’s true, but it’s the one area we can’t take a step back,” Holliday said. “We’ve got to continue to get better offensively, and we can.
“We had a very productive offense, but the defense and special teams have got to get much better and we saw improvement in spring. Now, we’ve got to show that improvement in camp.”
Led by C-USA MVP quarterback Rakeem Cato, Marshall’s offense -- in the hands of veteran coordinator Bill Legg -- was pass-first, to the extent that a much-improved run game was overlooked at times. Holliday said that was much ado about making wise choices.
“We were third in the conference in rush offense, and we had to be able to do both,” he said. “I felt like in some games we really ran it well, at rice, over 300 yards, for example.
“The one thing we really did a better job in a year ago was to take what the defense gave us. If it’s not there, don’t try to stick a square peg into a round hole. If you can throw it, throw it; if they’re giving you the opportunity to run it, then do that. We’ve got to keep getting that done.”
Holliday said the Herd needs to do a much better job on kickoffs, and to that extent the Herd is bringing in a few strong-legged walk-on kickers to vie for the kickoff job in hopes of getting more touchbacks. If any are successful, the opportunity is obvious. Tyler Williams, a walk-on who battled for the punting job last preseason, earned a scholarship as a Freshman All-America choice.
The Herd coach said he expects to greet a mostly healthy squad when the players report Aug. 4 – even star receiver Tommy Shuler, the Biletnikoff Award candidate who is in a walking boot after undergoing surgery for a left foot fracture that Holliday called “an old injury that needed to be fixed.”
He also said he doesn’t expect any personnel surprises before camp.
“It’s more settled than it has been,” Holliday said when asked if any significant roster names have been deleted since the spring. “Everybody’s here now (for summer conditioning) who’s supposed to be here.”
The improved depth at several positions is what Holliday said could be most significant. The Herd has 19 offensive linemen. Two seasons ago “we had about half that,” he said.
“Overall, it’s going to be good to have (senior defensive tackle James) Rouse back out there, running around, finally healthy,” Holliday said. “The new defensive line guys will really provide depth, (Arnold Blackmon), Josh Brown, (Gary) Thompson. That will help us.
“You look at players like a Michael Johnson, Tiquan Lang (in the secondary), guys at skill positions who can help us, and one of those new receivers (Josh Knight, Justin Hunt) needs to step up help us. And for the first time we haven’t had to play (freshman) offensive linemen. That’s good for us. That line should be a strength.”
Holliday and his coaches will gather in Mingo County again for their annual pre-camp retreat July 30-Aug. 1.
“Over about 2 1/2 days we cover everything from A to Z,” Holliday said. “We really focus on the season and the program, practice schedules, meetings, teaching. Every coach gets an opportunity to teach something to the other coaches. We do it to make sure we do a great job, cover all aspects of the program. Then we’re ready to go.”
The Herd already has eight commitments toward the 2014 recruiting class. Holliday said that’s an encouraging sign.
“Todd (Hartley, first year as recruiting coordinator) has done a good job organizing things and the staff has done a really good job getting into their areas and working hard,” Holliday said. “We’re a little bit ahead of where we have been, and that’s good, but with recruiting, you have to keep at it, and we will.”
Just as having a player picked in Round 2 of the NFL Draft for a second straight season (Vinny Curry, Aaron Dobson) helps sell a his program, Holliday knows preseason recognition is another piece in that puzzle.
Cato (Maxwell Award), Shuler (Biletnikoff Award), Williams (Ray Guy Award) and tight end Gator Hoskins (John Mackey Award) have put the Herd onto national watch lists this month.
Those accolades can help put people in the seats at Edwards Stadium for six home games, too.
“Getting those is better than the alternative,” Holliday said. “It’s obvious there are some people out there now who think we have some pretty good players.
“This is first time we’ve had some guys who have a played a lot of football (in his program) and played it very well. I’d rather have them talking about us in positive way than a negative way.
“There do seem to be a lot of people out there who seem to think we’ll be pretty good.”