Marshall puts focus on Southern Miss, hopes to finish season strong
HUNTINGTON -- The Marshall Thundering Herd football team has a rare opportunity.
With a bye week coming directly in the middle of their schedule, they can forget about a 2-4 start and focus on the second half of the season with the goal of winning Conference USA's East Division still intact.
"This time last year, we were in the same position," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said at his Tuesday press conference. "It's important that our kids understand that all of our goals. ... all their hopes and dreams are still out there. We haven't played a single team in the East yet.
"Now, that being said, you have to take them one at a time. Right now, our kids are being told to focus on Southern Miss because when we go down there, we're going to have our hands full."
Marshall (2-4, 1-1 C-USA) takes on the Golden Eagles (0-6, 0-2 C-USA) in Hattiesburg, Miss., at 7 p.m., Saturday. It will be the first game Marshall will play against a C-USA East team and is being televised on the CBS Sports Network (Huntington cable Ch. 174).
The Herd pulled off a surprising win over Southern Miss in Huntington last year, 26-20, before the Golden Eagles went on to win C-USA and defeat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl during a 12-win season.
This year, the typically dominant Golden Eagles are 0-6. But four of those losses came to the likes of Nebraska, Louisville, Boise State and a 5-1 Western Kentucky team.
The team is starting a freshman quarterback in Anthony Alford.
"(Southern Miss head coach) Ellis Johnson has had his hands full," Holliday said. "But, you watch that football team, he hasn't lost them. He's held them together, they're playing extremely hard. That's a tribute to him, and a tribute to his team."
Southern Miss put perhaps its best effort of the season together last weekend, in a 38-31 double overtime loss to C-USA East foe Central Florida. UCF boasts the best defense in C-USA.
"We know going in that (Southern Miss) going to line up as a team and play hard," Holliday said.
Marshall should be able to move the ball against the Golden Eagles. The Herd is averaging 558.3 yards per game, and 40.5 points per outing.
Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato is first in the NCAA in completions (218), passing yards (2,311) and is tied for fifth in touchdown passes with 18. He's third in the country in total offense.
Herd players are atop almost every offensive statistical category in C-USA.
But Holliday pointed out Tuesday, as he has several times over the past two weeks, that the Herd has to eliminate offensive turnovers late to start winning football games.
Both teams struggle mightily on defense, with Marshall giving up 44.5 points per game and Southern Miss allowing 35.7.
Marshall is ranked 107th out of 123 NCAA FBS schools in overall defense.