Nov. 21, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Forget for a minute what you learned in school, those famous three R’s.
For Marshall on Saturday night, it’s about the five F’s – Florida, family, FIU, focus and football … and it better not be in that order, coach Doc Holliday said.
The Herd (7-3, 5-1) has more Floridians on the roster (34) than any school outside the Sunshine State except for Louisville. The 6 p.m. kickoff in Miami at struggling FIU (1-9, 1-5) provides a second “homecoming” this season, following an Oct. 12 visit to Florida Atlantic.
In that one, Marshall needed a 10-point rally in the final minutes to just head home with a 24-23 victory on Justin Haig’s last-play, win-or-lose, 41-yard field goal.
As the Herd was permitted in the trip to Boca Raton, Holliday has a two-hour window set aside on Friday night for players to gather with family members in the team’s hotel headquarters. Holliday said he didn’t think the family hours at FAU played a part in the Herd’s struggle the next day.
Now, one might think that the Herd’s trip to Florida would also be accompanied by thoughts of a Thanksgiving Friday home date looming against East Carolina to determine the Conference USA East Division title. The Pirates (8-2, 6-1) have a non-conference date Saturday at NC State.
“If this team worries about anything other than FIU on Saturday, then we are going to have problems,” Holliday said earlier this week. “We have to eliminate the noise. There’s talk about bowls and this and that. If we are concerned about anything other than going and playing FIU at this point then our focus isn’t where it needs to be.
“We have to take care of business on Saturday and then we’ll worry about all the other noise. At this point our football team can’t worry about anything other than getting prepared to go play FIU.”
Besides the need to win at FIU to make the Edwards Stadium game with the Pirates a true division-decider, Marshall has other potential benchmarks at FIU Stadium:
*A win would be the Herd’s sixth in C-USA play. In the previous eight years in the league, no Herd team has reached that number. Holliday’s second MU team (2011) went 5-3 in the league and then won the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl over FIU, then a Sun Belt Conference member.
*Marshall is seeking its first eight-win season since then-coach Bob Pruett’s 2003 club went 8-4.
*The Herd, with a three-game winning streak, is seeking a fourth straight triumph for the first time since the 2004 team won five in a row (in a 6-6 season).
*The Herd is 3-0 in November. Marshall hasn’t won four games in the 11th month since 2001, when an 11-2 Herd team started 0-1 at No. 1 Florida, then won 10 straight before losing the Mid-American Conference title game at Toledo … then topped East Carolina in double overtime in the GMAC Bowl to finish 11-2.
*After winning in comeback fashion at Tulsa a week ago tonight, the Herd is seeking wins in back-to-back road games for the first time since ’04, when Pruett’s team won at Ohio and Kent State on Oct. 9 and 16.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and his pass-catching pal from Miami, slot receiver Tommy Shuler, are returning to a stadium where they got a big Miami Central win in 2010 over Northwestern High, quarterbacked by current Louisville star Teddy Bridgewater.
The duo understands this trip to the neighborhood is about the Herd keeping on keeping on.
“To tell you the truth, it’s going to be hard because everybody (on the outside) is looking at East Carolina and what they did to us (a 65-59 double-overtime win last season that denied Marshall a bowl bid),” Shuler said. “It went to about two or three overtimes. But we’ve just got to focus on FIU and ECU will take care of itself.
“(Holliday) is going let us see our family, but I feel like at FAU, we were still a young team at that time of the season and we really didn’t realize what we were playing for. But now we’re playing for a conference championship, so I think everybody now will be focused on the task of winning at FIU.”
Each Herd player receives four tickets to each game, and the bartering by Sunshine Staters for FAU and FIU seats took place long ago.
“I maybe have four more tickets, but still that’s not enough,” Shuler said. “That (Florida Atlantic) game I had 22 come to the game; this time there will be more because FIU is closer (20 minutes from his home), and they’ve just got to buy the tickets.”
Cato isn’t worried about how they get into the seats.
“I only have four (tickets) right now,” the Herd QB said. “They’ve been gone since spring; FAU and FIU tickets have been gone since spring, so I only have four. I’m here to play football … Everybody else has got to pay their way in.
“That can’t be a distraction. If that’s a distraction to any player on Marshall’s team, that’s an excuse and we can’t have any excuses. You want to be proud and you want to have fun playing in front of your family, so that can’t be a distraction.
“We’ve got to be ready to play, no matter who. We, as players, we love playing in front of our families, so we’ve just got to be prepared and go play football.”
Holliday said the Herd proved itself -- again -- in the 45-34 win at Tulsa, where Marshall watched an early 21-0 lead wilt, only to come back to victory in the final minutes.
“I know I haven’t had a team that had the leadership on it, that when things started going the way it did there at Tulsa, that would have hung together like they did, come back and find a way to win the football game,” the fourth-year Herd coach said. “I think you can say the same thing about the FAU game. They were hit right in the face with adversity and they found a way to win the football game, which is the only thing that mattered.
“Right now, we’re finding ways to win games instead of finding ways to lose them. That’s a culture in our program. When you go eight or nine years finding ways to lose games, it takes a while to get out of that culture. That culture is starting to change. Marshall University had never beaten Tulsa. You have to find a way to go win that game and that’s the important thing.
“Instead of finding a way to lose, we found a way to win it. Now you’re sitting there feeling good because you still have all your goals and dreams out there because you found a way to win those two football games.
“I see the culture starting to change and that’s a good thing. I know when (quarterbacks) Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich were here and won all those championships, it’s because they found ways to go win games. I’m sure they weren’t all pretty, but they were wins. At the end of the day that’s all that matters.”