Nov. 28, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There are seven Conference USA games this weekend to wrap up the football regular season. In the four that have C-USA championship or bowl eligibility implications, those players on home teams are dealing with their Senior Days, too.
So it will be Friday at noon at Edwards Stadium, when Marshall (8-3, 6-1) meets East Carolina (9-2, 6-1), with the victor moving on to the Dec. 7 conference title game. And after an emotional few moments as they are introduced before kickoff, the Herd seniors will be trying to refocus on facing the Pirates in a high-octane game.
“It’s tough; it’s tough,” Herd senior defensive end Alex Bazzie said earlier this week. “This last game, you kind of want to have a game where it’s a high possibility we go out there and once we execute, you will win. But our history with ECU tells you this is going to be a tough, fighting, down-to-the-wire game, possibly come down to the last second.
“It could be one of those games where every play, every snap, every movement matters. And it’s tough when you’ve got a game like that as your Senior game, because you’re going through the whole week instead of worrying about family coming up, you’re tuned into your duties of preparation, how you’re going to prepare to make sure that you end your last game at ‘The Joan’ right.
“It’s tough, because you want to focus on the happiness as far as the family coming into town, all the good there is about that, your Mom and Dad watching you, all that good stuff, because that’s difficult. But you have to put that aside and can’t worry about that until after the game.
“You have to make sure you prepare properly where you have a win, where you’re happy, and you’re sharing smiles with Mom and Dad. So, it’s difficult, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Bazzie, of Silver Spring, Md., got his undergraduate degree last spring in business marketing. He’s taking postgraduate courses in adult training and education. He’s among the Herd’s tackling leaders (fourth, with 51), but this game isn’t about statistics.
“This is special to me because I’ve never played for a championship … never,” Bazzie said. “The Beef ‘O’ Brady’s (Bowl) was about it (in 2011), but that was no championship. I’ve never had a championship ring, high school, pee-wee, none.
“It’s funny, because the year I weighed too much to play pee-wee, that was the year they (the Silver Spring Warriors) ended up going to the championship. So, I’ve never seen a championship, and so this is very critical right now.
“Oh my, the (weight) limit was 120 at the time. I was way above that, was one of those kids who grew a lot faster than the other ones. I had to wait on ‘em to catch up to my weight class. I wish I could have played with those boys back in the younger days and won one.
“And this is the finish of my college career, and there’s no telling if my career is going to continue or not, so I just want to end it right, you know? As happy as this day is, just knowing what I have ahead of me, I have to just calm myself down and take care of business.”
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Bazzie knows he will finish his Herd career in a bowl game somewhere, and while it’s satisfying he’s a senior on a team that has gotten Marshall an eight-win year for the first time in a decade, that isn’t enough.
As a well-known quarterback “pressure-cooker” from his “Fox” position in C-USA, Bazzie knows the difference between the Herd playing or not on Dec. 7 likely depends on how well Marshall copes with Pirates’ QB Shane Carden, who leads the nation in completion percentage (72.8).
Carden and Marshall’s Rakeem Cato are tied with Heisman Trophy contenders Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Jameis Winston of Florida State at No. 3 in the country with 32 touchdown passes.
“We’ve got to get into his face; he’s a very good quarterback,” Bazzie said of Carden. “He’s got some good receivers and he can make the throws. We’ve got to get pressure, make him feel uncomfortable. If we do that, the game will be a little bit more manageable for our defense.
“And if we can just get off the field on third down like we have, don’t give them an extra inch or extra momentum. If we get the chance to get off the field on third down, then we have to do that. A team like that, they highly execute when they’re out there, and the more you start to feed ‘em, the more you start giving them opportunities, the more they’re going to take advantage of it.”
In last season’s 65-59 double-overtime loss at ECU that kept the 5-7 Herd home for the holidays – “That one lingered for a long time,” Bazzie said – the defensive end learned some things he and his teammates need to know on this Thanksgiving Friday.
“Well, No. 2 (receiver Justin Hardy, fifth in FBS with 95 receptions) and No. 5 (Carden) have a real great chemistry,” Bazzie said. “You’ve got to find a way to get them off schedule, off path. When you have those two starting to click, it can get very hectic for your defense.
“Not only that, you start to see they’ve got other receivers who fit into the system, and they’re out there making big plays and they’re a big-play offense. At any given time and point, they can strike for a big play, for 50 or 60 yards. We were watching that on film, man, this offense has the ability to make a big play at any given time or point.
“So, just causing turnovers is going to have to be our big (thing). We’ve got to come out here and practice stripping the ball, practice tackling, we’ve got to get them on the ground, because if you keep giving them chances to take another snap, at any given time and point they can strike for a big play.”
Marshall and ECU rank 1-2 – or 2-1 – in C-USA in scoring offense, total offense, pass offense, pass efficiency, first downs and third down conversions..
In other statistical categories, the Pirates or Herd ranks first or second in rushing offense, rushing defense, scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, kickoff returns, punt return average, sacks, third down defense, fourth down conversions, red zone offense and red zone defense.
“It’s huge having a game like this at home,” said Bazzie, whose team is one of only two C-USA unbeaten at home (with Rice) this season. “You get in front of your home crowd. You got that home-field advantage, as people like to say. It’s big. It’s big.
“They’re away from home; they’re uncomfortable. It’s colder down here than it is at their place. There’s a lot that plays into it, a lot. But as good a team as they are, I don’t think worrying about the cold or the away atmosphere is anything that bothers them. I think they’re a team that’s very focused, that likes to come to other team’s fields and execute what they have to do. A team like that, they (think), ‘Who cares?’
“When they’ve got their heads on right and are so focused, you’ve got to find a way to get them out of their game, a way to slow ‘em down. You have to find a way where they have to start going to different plays, and not the ones they want to run. You’ve got to find a way to take them off track.”
Bazzie and his fellow Herd seniors will be warmly welcomed by the Edwards Stadium crowd minutes before kickoff … .but then it’s all business.
It had better be, Bazzie said, because if this Senior Day is to be the kind a player wants, the Herd will be going where it hasn’t gone before – a C-USA Championship Game.
“It’s a great feeling, a great feeling, to have a game this important as the last one,” Bazzie said. “But to come down and have it be a game this critical, it kind of takes away from the happiness, because you’re so tuned in to make sure it does go right.
“As good of a feeling it is, you start becoming … I don’t want to say stressed out or anything … but you start becoming so tuned in that you start to fidget a little bit because you want to make sure everything is right.
“You don’t want to take a team for granted or anything like that, that you end up ruining something that can be good. But this is the biggest game I’ve ever played, the biggest game we’ve played in my years at Marshall, no doubt.”