Chuck Landon: To win on road, Herd must keep faith
The very words are ominous in athletics.
That's because it is so very difficult to win there. Venturing away from home and playing in an opponent's stadium -- aka "their house" -- is so much harder than most people realize.
That's why Marshall's visit to Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. Thursday is tougher than the Golden Hurricane's 2-7 record would indicate.
Then, let's travel back to 1984 when Marshall's renaissance in football actually began and illustrate just how difficult it is to win on the road.
That's the year coach Stan Parrish got the 21-year non-losing streak started with back-to-back winning seasons. But although Parrish compiled a 13-8-1 record, his road record was a modest 4-5.
Next, there was George Chaump, who had a very successful 33-16-1 record. But away from Fairfield Stadium? His teams were just 12-10.
That led to Jim Donnan's tenure, which included three NCAA I-AA championship game appearances, one title and an impressive 64-21 record (.753 winning percentage). Yet, his road record was only two games above .500 at 15-13.
Next, there were the "Golden Years" under iconic coach Bobby Pruett. Besides compiling a wondrous 94-23 overall record (.803), Pruett was the most successful "road" coach in Marshall's history with a stunning 32-18 mark.
But since then?
The road has gotten more difficult to navigate than the loop around Columbus, Ohio.
First, Mark Snyder managed an atrocious 4-25 road record among his overall mark of 22-37. And, now, Doc Holliday has evened his career record at 23-23, but his road mark is only 6-17, including all three of Marshall's losses in 2013.
So, why is it so difficult to win on the road?
Let's ask the expert.
"You get guys ready to play on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," said Pruett, who is retired and living in the Huntington area. "If they're not ready, the pre-game speech and the halftime talk is pretty hard.
"Every now and then, you can pull them back a little bit. If they're playing with great energy and making mental mistakes, that's one thing. But if they're not playing with energy and excitement, you've got to work to get that back."
It varies from one road game to the next.
"Each game has its particular set of circumstances," said Pruett. "You try to keep your same routine as much as possible, so you get the players in a groove.
"But if you are playing at Bowling Green and it is cold and windy and there's nobody there, you've got to prepare them for that. If you are playing in a dome and it's hot, you've got to get them prepared for that.
"When we played at Clemson, we played 'Hold That Tiger' all during practices. And I talked about them rubbing 'The Rock' and coming down the mountain. We wanted to run out at the same time as the home team, so there's not a lot of intimidation from the crowd.
"Of course, our guys were crazy as heck anyway. They ran down to the bottom of the hill and challenged them, told 'em to come on down."
It obviously worked as MU won, 13-10.
"The biggest thing," said Pruett, "is your people have to have confidence in your coaches, the system, in their teammates and in themselves."
That's a key factor even at home. But on "The Road"? A team can't win without that level of confidence.
It is positively quintessential.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald- dispatch.com.
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