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MCGILL: Marshall vs. Pitt and Numbers to Know

Doc Holliday.
Oct. 1, 2016

By Chuck McGill

PITTSBURGH  Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg reminisced for a few moments early this week. They’ve coached against Saturday’s opponent, the University of Pittsburgh, plenty of times.

“I think we did coach at the Steelers’ old stadium, I think it was the late 90s,” Holliday said. “I think I coached at Three Rivers, but not Heinz.”

The seventh-year Thundering Herd coach has competed against Pitt, which will host Marshall (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. at the NFL home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field. It will be the 25th time Holliday has faced the Panthers, but the first meeting between Pitt and the Herd.

“We did play them a lot,” Holliday said. “We won some and they won some.”

Holliday is 12-10-2 all-time against Pitt, which includes his time as a player at West Virginia, two stints as an assistant coach at WVU and a Tangerine Bowl matchup at North Carolina State. He has made 13 trips to Pittsburgh: 11 games at Pitt Stadium, the school’s since-demolished on-campus venue; once at Three Rivers Stadium; and once at Heinz Field.



Holliday’s one Heinz Field trip came in 2008, when he returned to the Mountaineers as the associate head coach, recruiting coordinator and tight ends and fullbacks coach.

Here are other numbers to know for Saturday’s matchup against yet another Atlantic Coast Conference team.

Pitt’s football program has won nine national championships and boasts one Heisman Trophy winner, Tony Dorsett. In Dorsett’s Heisman-winning season, Holliday played against him. All Dorsett did was rush for 199 yards and three touchdowns in No. 1 Pitt’s 24-16 win against Holliday’s team.

If one or both of Saturday’s coaches are in a situation to go for it on fourth down, those in attendance might see Holliday or Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi willing to take the risk. There are only six of 128 FBS teams perfect on fourth downs, and two will be at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Marshall is 7 for 7 on fourth downs, while Pitt is 3 for 3. That technically makes the teams tied for the national lead in fourth down conversions, but no team has attempted as many fourth down conversions as the Herd and remained perfect. Utah is second on that list at 5 for 5.

The Marshall offense will have quite the test with Pittsburgh’s defense. Pitt is allowing 2.08 yards per rushing attempt to the opposition, which ranks fourth nationally behind Miami, Houston and Air Force. That doesn’t mean the Herd should steer clear of the run and try to chuck it around. The Panthers have 17 sacks in four games, which ranks third nationally behind Washington (21) and Houston (18). Of course, Washington and Houston have each played five games – one more than Pitt.

Pitt has two offensive linemen  tackle Adam Bisnowaty and guard Dorian Johnson  who were second-team All-ACC picks after the 2015 season. They have 67 career starts between them. Overall, the Pitt offensive line has 120 career starts between six players, and the starting five averages 314 pounds.

Pitt likes to run. A lot. The Panthers opened with an uninspiring 86 rushing yards on 34 attempts (2.53-yard average) and one touchdown in a win against Villanova. Since then, it’s been quite the rush. Pitt has averaged 55 carries for an average of 304 yards per game and 10 touchdowns in the last three games  all against Power 5 conference opponents (Penn State, at Oklahoma State and at North Carolina). That makes Pitt No. 11 nationally in rushing yards this season, while leaguemate Louisville is No. 2. That means the Herd will take on two of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks on consecutive weeks. One more significant note about Pitt’s rushing statistics: Against FBS Power 5 opponents, Pitt is No. 1 in rushing yards (912 yards), ahead of Oregon’s 852. Pitt is averaging 5.53 yards per carry against FBS Power 5 opponents, and is one of three teams with double-digit rushing touchdowns against FBS Power 5 competition (Oregon and, yes, Louisville are the others).