Chuck Landon: Herd has long row to hoe
GREENVILLE, N.C. — It shouldn’t have come down to this.
Marshall should have been smarter than this. The Herd should have shown both more common sense and football sense than this. MU should have played with more of a sense of urgency than this.
But Marshall didn’t.
And this is the result.
A do-or-die game. A win or there’s no tomorrow contest. A now-or-never game. A win or stay home for the holidays contest.
Marshall and its 5-6 record have to find a way to upset East Carolina at 2 p.m., Friday, here in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to reach bowl eligibility.
Otherwise, a disappointing season will end on a disturbing note.
And let’s be honest, Marshall is a long-shot Friday. I’m not referring to East Carolina being a 4.5-point favorite according to oddsmakers, either.
This is about reality.
The under-achieving, confounding Herd has to accomplish a whole plateful of “firsts” to beat East Carolina and claim a bowl berth for the second consecutive season.
It requires winning two consecutive games for the first time this season. It means defeating an opponent with a winning record for the first time in 2012.
And if that degree of difficulty isn’t tough enough, add this to the list.
Marshall has to beat East Carolina in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the first time ever.
That’s right, ever.
The Herd is 0-6 here in this 50,000-seat stadium. The losses include 49-20 in 1968, 17-14 in 1970 which culminated in the Marshall airplane disaster, 45-0 in 1978, 33-20 in 2006, 19-16 in overtime in 2008 and 37-10 in 2010.
Why, Marshall has been out-scored 200-80 during its six games in Dowdy-Ficklen. The average score here has been East Carolina 33.3, Marshall 13.3.
A 20-point margin.
And this is the venue where the Herd has backed itself into a corner? This stadium — of all football houses of horror — is where Marshall faces a now-or-never game?
Good luck with that.
And that’s precisely what Marshall will need a lot of Friday — luck.
Of course, it would help if all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — showed up to play in the same game. That, too, would be a first this season.
But who knows? Maybe the gridiron planets inexplicably will align. Maybe this is the complete game Marshall has been waiting to play all season. Maybe the gloves will come off Friday.
Except for Rakeem Cato, of course.
“East Carolina does the same thing as last year,” said Marshall’s sophomore quarterback. “They play a quarter defense. They like to let the backside safety help out. They blitz a little bit, but not that much. You never know what you’re going to get from them.”
Well, there is one known fact.
“When they do play a passing team, they like to drop eight,” said Cato. “Every time they play a passing team, they like to drop eight.”
So, unlike the UAB game, the strategy of rushing only three and dropping eight defenders into coverage won’t surprise the Herd.
“No, we’re used to it,” said Cato. “They did it last game (Houston). I had a trick for ‘em that game. We’ve got a couple of tricks up our sleeve that we’ve got planned for a team that wants to drop eight.”
Obviously, those tricks have to include Cato keeping the football and running with it as he did so successfully against Houston.
“That’s the trick,” exclaimed Cato with a grin.
Hmmm, if I figured that out what are the odds of East Carolina not catching on?
MU will lose, 41-31.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at email@example.com.