MCGILL: A Gift Idea As Doc Reaches Game 100
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 9, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Happy 100, Doc Holliday.
The Marshall University football coach, introduced as the Thundering Herd’s new boss on Dec. 18, 2009, is now 60 years old and is seeking career win No. 60 when MU hosts Western Kentucky (5-4, 3-2 Conference USA) this Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m., and beIN will broadcast the game.
The game will be the 100th of Holliday’s head coaching career.
If his players are the gift-giving type, there is a present that will surely make any old ball coach turn a grimace into a grin. That gift, however, requires some thievery. As in, the defense needs take the ball away from the Hilltoppers and create a turnover or two. The more the merrier.
“We have to take advantages of opportunities to create turnovers,” said Malik Gant, a sophomore safety. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to make turnovers, but we haven’t taken advantage of it. We have to be more physical and more aggressive.”
In Holliday’s first 99 games as a head coach, this is the first time one of his defenses have not forced a turnover in consecutive games. Marshall – now 6-3 overall and 3-2 in Conference USA play – lost both of those games, at home against FIU and last Friday at FAU. The Herd also did not force a turnover in September’s loss at N.C. State, meaning Marshall is 6-0 this season when the defense creates at least one turnover and 0-3 when it does not.
“We’ve had balls we could have made a play on but we didn’t,” said Blake Keller, a senior defensive lineman. “We have to get that turned around.”
Overall, Marshall is 5-13 in eight seasons under Holliday when the defense does not force at least one turnover. Those five wins: Memphis in 2011, Rice in 2012 and three wins in 2014 (Florida Atlantic, Rice and Northern Illinois in the bowl game). All five of those games, however, have some kind of significant statistical contribution that seemed to offset the inability to cause a turnover.
In 2011, at Memphis, Marshall rallied for a 23-22 win to keep its bowl hopes alive. The Herd did that, somehow, despite a minus-six turnover margin – six turnovers produced by the offense, but zero caused by the defense. On the other hand, the MU defense held Memphis to 39 rushing yards – the fewest yards on the ground by an opponent in Holliday’s 99 games as head coach.
In 2012, in the 54-51 win against Rice, the offense had zero turnovers, so that battle was a draw. The same happened in the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl win against Northern Illinois, as neither team turned over the ball.
In 2014, Marshall beat FAU despite not causing a turnover because running back Devon Johnson rushed for a school record 272 yards. That same season, in a win against Rice, the defense held the Owls to 180 yards of total offense – the best defensive performance by the Herd since joining Conference USA.
So, perhaps, the Herd players will celebrate Holliday hitting triple digits with a turnover-filled day. Hope for four or more, as Marshall is 7-0 the last five seasons when the defense causes at least that many miscues.
QB TAKES BLAME, HEAT FOR MISCUES
Marshall was on the wrong end of the turnover battle in last week’s loss to FAU. Junior quarterback Chase Litton, who earlier this season attempted 164 consecutive passes without an interception – the second-longest streak in school history – was credited with all four turnovers. Four of Litton’s 39 passes against FAU went for interceptions.
“Bad quarterback play, that’s all that was,” Litton said this week. “Great play-calling. It was great execution, for the most part. It was great defense. Good special teams. Just bad quarterback play. That’s all it was. As a competitor, as a quarterback, as someone who believes my guys rock with me and look for me to lead, I’ve got to step up. I’ve got to carry myself the right way and lead this team to what they deserve to have – that’s victories.”
Litton’s career interception rate is the second-best in school history at 2.4 percent. That trails Byron Leftwich (1.9 percent), is tied with Rakeem Cato and leads Chad Pennington (2.8 percent) and Michael Payton (3.4 percent). Litton has never had a penchant for interceptions, but has six in the last two games – both Herd losses. Litton also lost a fumble against FIU that set up a touchdown.
“The first seven games he played pretty well; took care of the ball,” Holliday said. “If he was forcing throws and making bad reads and doing all those things – he’s not. He’s throwing the ball where it’s supposed to be; a couple balls took off on him. Sometimes those are incompletes. These happened to be interceptions.
“He understands. He’s a competitor. There’s nobody who wants to correct things more than he does.”
Litton is third in Conference USA in passing yards (2,166), trailing WKU’s Mike White (2,652) and North Texas’ Mason Fine (2,591). Litton is tied with Fine for the C-USA lead in passing touchdowns with 18.
Those are numbers that mean little to a fan base who want wins, and Litton’s play was ridiculed on social media websites like Twitter.
“I signed up for this,” Litton said. “This is being a quarterback at Marshall University, which has had some of the best quarterbacks who have ever played the game. It’s what you want. If you don’t want the pressure, if you don’t want the criticism, if you don’t want the ‘haters,’ I guess, then you wouldn’t play the position. You wouldn’t do it.
“I want to play the position at a high level, not for myself, but for my teammates. They deserve it, especially those seniors.”
As always, at home or on the road, the Marshall athletic department will provide in-game updates through social media websites Twitter and Facebook. Please follow me on Twitter – @chuckmcgill or www.twitter.com/chuckmcgill – and Marshall’s official football account – @HerdFB or www.twitter.com/HerdFB. Questions are welcome on Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org