BOGACZYK: For Blackmon, Rice a Personal Challenge
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 14, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Until last season, pretty much all of Arnold Blackmon’s experiences with Rice football were happy and good ones.
As the Marshall senior defensive end deals with the Owls (6-3, 4-1) one more time in Saturday’s Conference USA game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Blackmon hopes the 2013 C-USA Championship Game in Houston was the exception.
Last December in a first C-USA title game appearance, the Herd was sent a message by host Rice in a 41-24 decision … and it happened only a zip code away from Blackmon’s Bellaire, Texas, home – and before nearly 100 of members of his family and closest buddies on a cold day.
Now, the No. 21-ranked Herd (9-0, 5-0) faces Rice again, and no Texas team has won (0-10) at "The Joan." So …
"I wouldn’t say it’s payback," the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Blackmon said earlier this week. "Some people called the game last year a homecoming because I was able to go back to my home city. It was bittersweet. I was able to see my family. We had an entire section of Rice Stadium filled with my family, former coaches, lots of friends.
"That was the great part of it. The game was not so great. Not coming out victorious was definitely heartbreaking … I mean it was fun to be there while it lasted, and it would have been that much sweeter if we could have come out with a win."
Blackmon came to Marshall last season as a junior college transfer from Navarro College. He was "edge" pass rusher the Herd needed at the time, and he hasn’t disappointed, with 15.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and eight quarterback hurries in his two seasons. His five sacks lead the 2014 Herd.
As a kid, Blackmon spent plenty of time at Rice Stadium, getting Owl autographs and eating hot dogs at concession stands where his parents worked fundraisers. Now, there’s little question that two of his biggest major college games will be played against the Houston school that once even recruited him.
"I never would have thought I’d be playing against them," he said.
Blackmon said the Herd learned a lesson last season, when Rice came out and aggressively took the game to the Herd, and also dusted off football history for a couple of plays – a halfback pass and a jump pass from the "Wild Owl" formation by Luke Turner in the win.
"We definitely feel like they came out more physical and it showed in our play and throughout the game," Blackmon said. "They got up on us early (14-0 after seven minutes), the trick play and no. 15 (6-foot-5 wideout Jordan Taylor) is a great player, a great athlete, and he was able to make some plays early that we weren’t really ready for.
"So, this time it’s about being physical with those guys because we know they will be with us, and I think we’ve developed a physicality to our practices over the season, and this is going to take being the team we are, the team we can be, and prepare and then play that way."
Marshall has won 10 games in a row – the third longest winning streak in the nation, behind the polls’ top two teams, Florida State (25) and Mississippi State (12). Rice brings a six-game win streak to town, so one of the top eight current FBS winning streaks will end in the game.
The Herd also has won 12 in a row at Edwards Stadium. Only Baylor (14) and Alabama (13) have longer home win streaks.
"It’s not last year; it’s definitely going to be a whole different ballgame," Blackmon said. "Rice has some good skill players as well and it’s a great offensive line and honestly, a good defense – and I know some of those guys personally.
"I know (6-2, 310-pound center) Matthew Simonette personally. I played high school football with him. He was a senior and I was a sophomore, but he was hurt last season. He’s a monster in the weight room. When I played with him in high school he was one of those guys that you had no choice but to admire, kind of see yourself wanting to be like him.
"You’re at your peak as a senior. Watching him play and go about his business back then, I know he’s all about ‘ball.’ And when it comes down to it, he’s going to give you his best shot. He’s very, very physical and I respect him a lot.
"I believe this game is going to be a good one. I believe that in my heart, and it’s not going to be a blowout game like we’ve had. It’s going to be tough and we’re going to have to fight for it. We’re going to have to be ready to play."
Blackmon said while his support at the game will be nothing like last season – he had 72 assigned tickets at Rice Stadium with help from the Herd compliance office then, and more than a few others who paid to get in and see him – "my roots, my rocks, my roots, my mom, my father, my little brother, my aunt and my ‘Nana,’ who are so very near and dear to me, will be here. And I love ‘em to death. That’s what keeps me going, keeps me motivated."
Last December, Blackmon gathered with his family postgame until it was time to leave, Blackmon said.
This time, with the Herd wanting that C-USA title that was elusive a little more than 11 months ago, it’s about keeping the train on the tracks.
"We make an emphasis on the week that’s here," Blackmon said when asked about Marshall seniors and other team leaders not allowing themselves and teammates to focus on the big prize that could come later. "In fact, Coach Holliday gives a speech every Friday night -- ‘One play at a time, one day at a time, one game at a time.’ It’s true, and it holds true.
"You can’t worry about tomorrow unless you get through today. You never know when your last play is, when you’re not going to be able to play football anymore, so don’t look ahead. Focus on what you have now. Finish this play and then go on to the next one.
"And I think the emphasis on making plays now, in practice, the competitiveness, doing things you need to do, it keeps you humble. You have no choice because it you don’t get through the week, you won’t make it to Saturday."
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: Marshall has played two straight games without committing a turnover, the first time the Herd has had back-to-back no-giveaway games since the final three games (East Carolina, Houston, UAB) of the 2007 season that ended 3-9. Two of those no-turnover games were victories … When Rakeem Cato attempted only 19 passes in last Saturday’s win at Southern Miss, it not only was the fewest number of throws in a Cato start, but the fewest passes for a Herd team since the 21-17 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl triumph over Ohio to end the 2009 season. Marshall QB Brian Anderson was 12-for-17 passing that day in Detroit … Marshall has the most plays of 20 or more yards in the country (75). Oregon is No. 2, with 71. The Herd also leads in plays of 60 or more yards (10), with Colorado State second (8) … Only twenty-two times in Herd history has a player scored four or more touchdowns in a game. Two of those are the last two games – Devon Johnson against FAU and Remi Watson at Southern Miss … This is the third time Marshall has started a season 9-0. The previous two (1996 and ’99), the Herd finished unbeaten – a 15-0 Division I-AA title team in ’96 and a 13-0 team ranked No. 10 in the final polls in ‘99.