Pirates put bowl in peril
HUNTINGTON -- For the second straight year it will take a win over rival East Carolina in the final game of the season for the Marshall Thundering Herd football team to become bowl eligible.
The difference this year is that the contest is in Greenville, N.C., where Marshall (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) has lost the last seven times against the Pirates.
"I think over the years that Marshall has gone down there East Carolina has had some pretty good players and pretty good teams," Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday said at a press conference Tuesday. "Combine that with a great facility and great fan support, and everything that goes along with East Carolina football, anytime you go on the road and play a team with good players at their house, where it's normally packed, it creates a tough situation to go into."
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Friday. CBS Sports Network has the telecast on Huntington Ch. 174.
Although ECU (7-4, 6-1) has already punched its post-season ticket, it will be senior night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, and the Pirates still have an outside chance of emerging atop the C-USA East Division with a win and a UCF loss.
Defeating the Pirates will be a tall task for an inconsistent Marshall team that hasn't won two games in a row this season. The Herd bested Houston (44-41) Saturday to keep its post-season hopes alive.
"We've got our work cut out for us. We've got to have a great week" in practice," Holliday said. "Up to this point we have, and we're looking to continue that today (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday)."
This ECU team is a bit different from previous teams under head coach Ruffin McNeil, perhaps most notably in that they don't throw the ball around as much as they did with quarterback Dominique Davis. As the Pirates' starter in 2010 and 2011, Davis set career records at ECU for completions and touchdowns in just 25 games. He's now on the Atlanta Falcons non-active roster.
ECU sophomore Shane Carden, who is more of a game manager than a gunslinger, has been ECU's starter since taking over in the second half of a 48-10 loss at the hands of SEC power South Carolina in September.
"Number one, (Carden) takes care of the football," Holliday said. "Offensively, they might not be putting up the numbers that they did with Davis, but they're more efficient in what they do."
Marshall, as it has been all year, is the clear offensive favorite averaging 525 yards per game and 39 points. However, the Herd is still giving up 41 points per game, while ECU allows about 28.
Holliday said freshman running back Remi Watson is questionable for the game, and several players, including senior wide receiver Aaron Dobson, will suit up despite nagging injuries.
While this 2012 Marshall team has been trading wins and losses each week, Holliday said he believes coming off a victory over Houston works in the Herd's favor.
"Anytime you come off a win that helps you as far as preparation goes," he said. "They understand that East Carolina is a good football team and we have to have a great week of preparation and find a way to go win that football game.
"I've mentioned many times I don't think losing helps you in any way, shape or form," Holliday said. "Winning (the Houston game) sure helps our preparation, because, number one, it gave us an opportunity to continue to play for a bowl game, which is important to our kids."