BOGACZYK: Herd Seeks a Finish to Match Holliday History
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 2, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It’s that time of year. Folks have been tricked-or-treated. The leaves are falling. The snow flurries are flying.
And Doc Holliday’s unbeaten and nationally ranked Marshall football team – if it follows in the path of the four previous Herd clubs he has coached – is primed for a big finish.
Holliday has coached Marshall to 5-7, 7-6, 5-7 and 10-4 seasons in previous years. And while that’s downright roller coaster-ish, there has been one consistency.
His teams have finished strong.
Holliday’s five teams are a combined 35-24. From Oct. 29 until the end of those first four seasons, the Herd has posted an impressive 16-5 record … and all five losses have been on the road. In those years following the aforementioned date, Marshall is 10-0 at Edwards Stadium, too, and has two victories in bowl games at neutral sites.
So, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Right, Doc?
"The way we prepare, and our strength program," Holliday responded when asked last week why he thought his teams – even the ones that had .500-range seasons – finished strong. "We don’t change what we do throughout the year; our Tuesdays, our Wednesdays, they’re the same.
"We don’t change our Sunday routine; we still lift twice a week. We just do what we do and we go to work. I think a lot of it is just our preparation, and our kids are in good shape.
"I know a lot of places take the pads off and not do things (late in the season) quite the way they’ve done them all year, but we don’t do that. We continue to grind and continue to practice the way we do, and I think it pays off on Saturdays."
So, that post-Oct. 29 stretch for this season’s Herd (8-0, 4-0) begins Saturday night at Southern Miss (3-6, 1-4). Then it’s Rice at home, a visit to UAB at Legion Field and home against Western Kentucky in a matchup between two of the top 10 scoring teams in major college football.
There’s hope for a Conference USA Championship Game appearance on Dec. 6, and the certainty of a third bowl somewhere in five Holliday seasons. And if the 2014 Herd closes as the 2010-13 clubs did, it will be the most impressive finish yet.
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When running back Devon Johnson took the school’s single-game rushing record with a 272-yard performance in the Herd’s Oct. 25 victory over Florida Atlantic, the 242-pound junior from Richlands, Va., put himself on the verge of tying another Marshall mark.
Johnson has run for 100 or more yards in seven games, missing triple digits only against Ohio. He had 91 yards in that game. The five 100-plus games since the victory over the Bobcats sends Johnson into Saturday night’s visit to Southern Miss with a chance to tie the MU record for consecutive 100-yard games.
The mark is shared by Chris Parker, who had six 100s in a row in the second half of the 1994 season, including three NCAA Division I-AA playoff games. The other six consecutive 100-yard performances belong to College Football Hall of Famer Jackie Hunt, in the final five games in 1940 and then a 220-yard performance in the 1941 opener against Omaha.
Besides Johnson, the only other player in Herd history with five consecutive 100-yard ground games is also Parker, who did in during the 1995 season.
Johnson was the fastest in Marshall history to reach a 1,000-yard rushing season, accomplishing that feat in eight games.
Marshall tight end Eric Frohnapfel spent two seasons in the same position group with Johnson. So, did the senior envision the guy nicknamed "Rockhead" putting up the numbers he has?
Yeah, I remember coming out of high school he was a highly touted running back and everyone knew how talented he was," Frohnapfel said last week. "And when he got here, it was immediate. You could see it. Even when he was playing linebacker, his freshman camp our jaws would drop at some of the plays he could make laterally, how fast he was.
"And then in the tight end room, when he’d get the ball in his hands, he made things happen. We had that jumbo package for him (last season, with Johnson at running back in goal-line situations). I think I saw early that this kid had it. He’s put on some weight, but he’s maintained that talent level he had in high school."
Back then, at Richlands, Johnson has 4,340 rushing yards and 63 touchdowns on the ground. In his senior season, he went for 1,376 yards and 23 TDs as the Virginia Group AA Offensive Player of the Year as voted by state coaches.
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And for those in Herdland who want to keep track of this stuff, Florida Atlantic led Marshall for a total of 19 minutes, 44 seconds before the Herd rallied to put away a 35-16 Edwards Stadium victory on Oct. 25.
A week earlier at FIU Stadium, the Panthers were the first team to lead Marshall this season, an advantage that lasted only 1:55.
Frohnapfel said he realized FAU did what FIU had done, until Johnson burst 58 yards on Marshall’s first play to regain the lead 18 seconds after the Owls had gone in front.
"I saw that we were down 3-0 and I was thinking about it," Frohnapfel said. "I saw the stat how we were only down a minute something (1:55) against FIU, and I remember thinking in the (FAU) game, ‘I wonder how long we’re going to be down now?’
"Sure enough, first play, Rockhead rumbles through there. And that’s such a confidence booster for our offense. And the offensive line, it’s so important for them to get that rhythm, that confidence, ‘Hey, we’ve already had one pop through.’"
In 480 minutes this season, Holliday’s team has trailed for only 21:39.