Nov. 13, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As Marshall football hopes to build from bowl eligibility to a first Conference USA championship game appearance, the Thundering Herd understands it has to change one thing.
Coach Doc Holliday’s team has to go from road worriers to road warriors.
There’s an urgency in that, too, Holliday said, as the Herd (6-3, 4-1) visits Tulsa (2-7, 1-4) for a Thursday night telecast game (Fox Sports 1, 7:30). Marshall is 1-3 on the road this season, and in the sole victory needed a late, 10-point rally and last-play field goal to overcome Florida Atlantic, 24-23.
“I think we just need to focus more and prepare a little bit better because, obviously, we’ve struggled on the road,” said Herd senior defensive tackle James Rouse, one of this week’s captains (for a fifth game). “I think everybody just needs to focus on the details and make sure we can get off to a fast start.
“I think these (last) two wins we’ve just gotten (romps at home over Southern Miss and UAB), if we can just carry that over to the road and try to perform as we did here on the road trip.”
Marshall has been plagued by special teams problems in road losses at Ohio, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee.
The Hokies and Blue Raiders blocked Tyler Williams punts into touchdowns. Tech also blocked what could have been a game-deciding field goal try. Ohio recovered a Steward Butler kick return fumble into a TD. MTSU recovered a fumbled punt by Devon Smith, too.
The Herd players said the secret is to not let the opposition – even at home – reach the point where mistakes of that ilk can make a huge difference in momentum and on the scoreboard.
“We’ve got to come out, start fast; we’ve just got to have leadership,” senior tight end Gator Hoskins
said. “A couple of games on the road we’ve started out slow, letting (the opponent) stay in the game. We’ve just got to go out and start fast.
“The last couple of games, our defense came up with a turnover that first possession, and we came out and scored, just giving us momentum. So, hopefully the defense will come out and get a couple stops, give us some momentum, and the offense can put the ball in the end zone.”
Marshall played its first turnover-free game of the season last Saturday in rolling past UAB at Edwards Stadium. Holliday has said repeatedly – and generically, regarding opponents – that if the Herd “hangs onto the football, we’re going to win.”
He’s right. In nine games this season, the Herd is minus-5 in turnover margin in three losses. It is plus-9 in six wins. Last season, in a 5-7 finish, Marshall was plus-3 in victories and minus-6 in defeats.
“Whenever we take care of the football we have a pretty good shot at winning the game,” Holliday said. “That’s in any case. Anytime you take care of the ball and don’t turn it over you have a shot at winning most games you play.
“That has been the case with us this year. We have been creating more turnovers and hopefully are taking care of the ball more (on offense). The combination of both of those things helps tremendously.”
Veteran Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott said the Herd, when on the road, needs to take a calmer approach.
“We’ve just got to go out and play to our own level,” Scott said. “This is how I feel … When we’re on the road sometimes, we play a little up or we play a little down, try to play to the level of our opponent and get trapped into it.
“We need to just play Marshall football and focus.”
With the final Conference USA meeting between Marshall and Tulsa – the Golden Hurricane is leaving for the AAC after this school year – the Herd is seeking a first win in five tries.
Asked after Saturday’s home win how to bottle the recent home success and take it to Tulsa, Holliday smiled and answered, “If I knew, I’d sure like to do that. This team has played well all year, played hard all year and I assume you it will be no different Thursday night.”
One thing seems to be certain … The Herd -- playing on the 43rd anniversary of the 1970 MU football team plane crash, and in special “75” decaled helmets in memory of the victims – won’t look past Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane, a preseason pick to win the C-USA West Division and coming off an 11-3 season and Liberty Bowl win over Iowa State, already has been eliminated from 2013 bowl eligibility.
Holliday wants his Herd program to go where Tulsa has been. TU has played in four of the eight C-USA title games. Entering this season, Tulsa – which joined C-USA along with the Herd in 2005 – was 49-19 in C-USA games entering 2013.
“When I turn that film on, I don’t see much of a different team than what I saw a year ago,” Holliday said of team that won 45-38 at Edwards Stadium. “Most of the players are back from the team that won the conference championship.
“I believe they beat Iowa State in the bowl game last year. I think Iowa State beat Tulsa earlier in the year that season. Tulsa turned around and beat them in the bowl game … They beat Central Florida in the C-USA championship game. They’re a good football team. I know they’ll play with a lot of confidence and they will be coached up really well.
“We’re going to get their best shot and I expect them to play extremely hard. I know they will. Our guys have to be ready to go play.”
After Tulsa, Marshall visits struggling FIU (1-8, 1-4) before returning home for a Thanksgiving Friday noon game against East Carolina (7-2, 5-1) – a game that could be anything but holiday leftovers. It could be for the C-USA East title and Dec. 7 championship game berth.
However, first things first, redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse said.
“You’re scoring in someone else’s house,” he said. “We have two road games still, and its ‘go’ time. We have to win these two (Tulsa and FIU). This is where we have to pick it up. Sure, we’ve got one home game later on, but it’s time to go on the road.”
Jasperse said the Herd just has to consider recent history for what it needs.
“Like the past few weeks, we’re probably going to open up with our defense on the field first and we need to go get a stop like we have,” he said. “(The defense) got us the ball inside 25 two times and we’ve got to score quick, get things going our way and have confidence.
“When we score, it gives the defense confidence, lets everybody know, ‘Hey, we’re here for real, we’re going to start fast and we’re going to finish the game.’
“Garrett is right. You can’t get too high or too low. You’ve got to find your middle and you’ve got to stay there. You can’t go high or low, Coach (Bill) Legg (offensive coordinator) preaches that all the time. We’ve just got to go play, can’t get caught up in the game or the surroundings. You’ve just got to go to work.”
A road trip is no holiday, as Holliday is selling to the Herd during this football “short week.”
“We talked a few weeks ago about playing our best football in November and I think we are playing our best football right now,” The Herd coach said. “There isn’t a lot of waiting around now. We are just teeing it up and going again.
“I think we have (16) days and three games. There has to be some urgency there and there is. I like this team. I’ve said all along that I like this team. I like the way they’ve prepared and the way they’ve handled themselves. They understand that they have to go play well Thursday night.”