Chuck Landon: Thundering Herd in must-win situation
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Marshall finds itself between "The Rock" and a hard place on this game day.
That's because the Herd needs a win like the rest of us need air.
And if Marshall doesn't beat Southern Miss at 7 p.m. here at "The Rock," otherwise known as M.M. Roberts Stadium?
Well, all the air comes out of the Herd's season as it deflates like a balloon.
That's how devastating a loss would be.
Just ask quarterback Rakeem Cato how badly Marshall needs a win.
"Phew, on a scale of 1 to 100?" asked Cato. "One-hundred."
He's not exaggerating.
This game really is that crucial.
"We need a win," continued Cato. "There's no excuses. There's no exceptions. We have to win-out. There are no more excuses for losses. There is nothing we can't do. But we have to win the ball game.
"I don't know how we're going to do it, but we have to win."
Otherwise, Marshall's goal of winning the East Division championship and contending for the Conference USA title will be nearly null and void.
"Yeah, we have to win-out," said the sophomore quarterback. "All these conference games? It's no more saying things just aren't going our way. We've got to win.
"We've got to follow the coaches' plan and just play hard. As long as everybody plays their heart out and gives 100 percent, we'll do well."
Anything less won't be good enough. Marshall has been backed into a corner with its 2-4 record.
"Yep, we are," agreed Cato. "I mean, everybody has to play to a certain level. ... the level that they are capable of playing to. Just going out there and playing mistake-free football.
"Not worrying about if you're going to make a mistake. Just going out there and knowing that you are giving your all and knowing that when a mistake happens, you went hard on that mistake. We just have to come together and play."
That has to happen because if it doesn't there really aren't any tomorrows for this team. If Marshall's record falls to 2-5 with a game against C-USA leader UCF looming next week, the season most likely will be in shambles.
There simply is no margin for error anymore.
"No, there isn't," agreed Cato.
What's worse is having no margin for error in "The Rock" -- of all venues. Marshall has won only once here since joining C-USA in 2005.
"I've never been there," said Cato. "I heard about the last time we went down there (a 41-16 drubbing). We've got to win a ball game.
"They're going to have a good crowd. And I know it takes a long time to get there. We've got to energize our bodies and get ready to win a ball game."
The key word in that sentence was "win."
Right, Tommy Shuler?
"Me and Cato have been talking," said the sophomore slot receiver. "We've got to go back to how we were last year. We're not going to take any prisoners. We need a win.
"Me and him were just now coming up the stairs talking about how bad we need a win. We're going to play hard. We're going to leave it all out on the field."
That's probably what it will take against an improving Southern Miss team playing its Homecoming game in "The Rock."
Can the Herd pull it off?
I believe so.
Marshall will win, 34-31.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.