Oct. 31, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When he often traded away Washington Redskins’ draft picks for veteran players, the late Pro Football Hall of Fame coach, George Allen, would punctuate his moves by saying, “The future is now.”
Marshall coach Doc Holliday says his Thundering Herd (4-3, 2-1) would do well to heed similar sentiments.
With Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) coming to Edwards Stadium with a 19-game losing streak on Saturday at noon, there is an urgency to a Herd season that has included projections of Conference USA title game and Liberty Bowl appearances.
Under normal circumstances, Marshall might naturally look past the winless Golden Eagles, but after falling 51-49 at Middle Tennessee a week ago, the Herd can’t afford to do anything but focus.
“Honestly, I’d be really disappointed if they weren’t really hurt by that loss,” Holliday said of his players earlier this week. “We would have a lot more problems if they weren’t hurt.”
Herd senior defensive end Alex Bazzie said it’s no time for the Herd to push the panic button, but he added that the future – Marshall’s next four games prior to an expected Thanksgiving Friday showdown against East Carolina (5-2, 3-1) are against teams with a combined record of 5-23 – includes no maneuvering room.
“It’s not backs-to-the-wall time, not just yet,” Bazzie said. “We have five more games coming up, this and next week we’re home (against UAB on Nov. 9).
“Our preparation, we can kind of get it back where we need it, everybody tuned in, even the freshmen (being redshirted). Have everybody on the same page, attack this game like it’s our last, get a big W. After we do that, we can get things rolling. We just need to get that winning taste in our mouths.”
Asked what the Herd needs to do – besides win out in the regular season – Bazzie said, “Play every game like it’s the last.
“We learned the hard way – a very hard way – that you can’t slack. We were No. 1 (in the C-USA East Division) at that time and point, and when other people see that, they’re out there fighting for that No. 1 spot.
“As easy as it is to get there, it’s kind of hard to keep it, and we want it back. It was a learning experience, but there are a lot more games. We can still get where we want to go. There are more games and it’s not quite time to have our backs against the wall and start panicking.”
The fourth-year Marshall coach said he isn’t worried about the Herd having its head on straight to face the Golden Eagles … and beyond.
“We’re not where we want to be and it is unacceptable to lose a game like that, but effort has never been a problem this year,” Holliday said. “These kids play extremely hard and it’s important to them. Execution has been a problem at times for us, but not effort or the caring part of it.
“These guys will be fine with the way they showed up Sunday (to practice) and the way they were all hanging around here even when they didn’t have to (Monday) and the way they approach practice … They’ll be fine. I’m not concerned about this team going out and playing because they’ve done that all year and that will also be the case on Saturday, too.”
Bazzie recalled how Marshall went into Hattiesburg, Miss., last season and routed the Golden Eagles, who were in the throes of a winless year after 18 straight winning seasons. He said that experience should help prepare the Herd this week.
“It’s not hard at all,” the veteran defensive lineman replied when asked if it was difficult to take a team mired in a losing skid seriously. “Because when you watch film, you see that they’re a team with talent, a team with big-play ability, and you kind of watch and start to understand that.
“Last year, we were a team with great players and our record didn’t show how good our talent actually was out on that field either. You kind of get an understanding that …
“OK, there’s a team coming in Saturday. The record might not suggest that they’re good, but when you watch film, you see that they have the ability out there to make big plays. If we take them lightly, they’re going to come in here maybe it all clicks for them and then you see a flashback to a good Southern Miss team that once was there.
“Everyone knows Southern Miss, they’ve won a lot of games in Conference USA. You don’t want that old type of conference championship Southern Miss team to come out on you with a losing record. You don’t want that record to fool you … We don’t want it to backfire on us.”
Holliday remains sold on his fourth Marshall club, too.
“When you have a really good football team, you have great leaders who take ownership of the football team,” said Holliday, who believes the Herd has that in 2013.
Bazzie echoed the Middle Tennessee postgame locker room sentiments of MU senior offensive guard Alex Schooler – a game captain this week – that it was time for the Herd players to accept the ultimate accountability.
“It’s not the coaches. You can’t blame the coaches. The coaches give us a play, we’ve got to go out there and execute. Coaches taught us during practice how to bend our knees and make a tackle, and we’re going out there and just diving, like we were never taught how to play the game of football and how to break down and make a tackle, or the importance of getting off the field on third down.
“It’s not on the coaches, it’s on us. The more we lean on them to take the responsibilities for our actions, we’re just going to be there at the end of the season, moping and crying about how we could have won a bowl game, or could have won a conference championship.
“Instead of all that shoulda, coulda, wouldas, let’s go out there and just execute. It’s a simple as that. As long as we execute, everybody would be in a happy locker room at the end of the game instead of a quiet, sad one.”
Holliday said three measures he bases the strength and cohesiveness of a team on are complacency, selfishness and accountability.
“It’s like we’re in the playoffs now,” the Herd coach said. “When you get into conference play, every game is a championship game. You have to go into every one of them and win it. East Carolina has a loss, we have a loss and Middle Tennessee has a couple, but we can’t look beyond. They understand that.
“If we do anything but focus on Southern Miss, then the rest of it isn’t going to matter. We have to find a way to win this game against Southern Miss and then we’ll look at who we have down the road.
“If we look further than that and are not focused on Southern Miss, then we’ll be sitting here next week having a conversation about no longer controlling our own destiny. Right now we do. We have to make sure that we continue to.”