Herd facing high-power offense
HUNTINGTON -- In a way, Marshall University football coach Doc Holliday's appearance at his press conference Tuesday summed up the Thundering Herd football team this season -- stitched up and bruised, but determined.
"There's a lot of football left to be played, and all of our goals are still out there," Holliday said. "The kids are excited, I'm excited and the coaching staff is excited. ... so let's go play our tails off Saturday."
Holliday got the stitches and a black eye from a collision with a ref after the Herd had blocked a punt in the team's 51-41 loss to Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sept. 29.
Now the Herd has to turn around and re-focus on another high-scoring Conference USA team in Tulsa.
The Herd (2-3, 1-0) and Golden Hurricane (4-1, 2-0) meet at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, in the Marshall Homecoming game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. CBS Sports Network (Huntington Ch. 174) has the telecast.
"We're trying to take the positives we can out of the Purdue game and build on that going into this week," Holliday said. "We held them to less than three yards per rush, and they were a team that was running the ball pretty good coming into that game.
"They're a Big Ten team, and you saw them, they were very physical and big up front and had a lot of good players, so I thought the defense in the second half did make some strides."
Marshall was down 42-14 at halftime, but the defense gave up just nine points in the second half.
Holliday said the defense was doing too much thinking and not enough playing in the first 30 minutes.
"They were on the same page and playing and having fun in the second half and I think that has to carry over into the next game," he said.
And while the defense has been under scrutiny, the Herd has another problem that they have to take care of in turnovers, Holliday said.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato, who is among the national leaders in almost every statistical category, threw three picks against Purdue, two of which were returned for touchdowns and one that led to a Purdue touchdown on the ensuing drive. That was what spotted the Boilermakers such a large lead by halftime.
The turnover bug also bit the Herd in their last home game against Ohio. A wide receiver fumble and an interception let the Bobcats back into the game when the Herd had a chance to put them away. The interception came as the Herd was moving on a potential game-winning drive, and allowed Ohio to simply run the clock out.
Now the Herd will host a Tulsa team that is No. 1 in C-USA in defense and No. 1 in rushing offense.
After five games, Tulsa has 26 quarterback sacks. That's good for first in the nation.
"That's just unheard of at this point (in the season)," Holliday said.
The Golden Hurricane's one loss came at the beginning of the season at Iowa State (38-23), and a 27-26 win over Fresno State gives some credibility to an otherwise anemic schedule.
Like Marshall, Tulsa likes to run its offense at a high tempo, and put up a lot of points.
They have a dangerous quarterback in Cody Green, a former freshman starter for Nebraska, and perhaps C-USA's most lethal running back combination.
There's Trey Watts, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster who can break a big run on a handoff or line up as a wide receiver and take a screen pass 40 yards. He also threw for a 26-yard touchdown against Fresno State.
He's averaging 7.9 yards a carry and has two touchdowns.
In front of Watts is Ja'Terian Douglas, who is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has four touchdowns on the ground.
Then there's the bruiser, 260-pound senior Alex Singleton, who has bulldozed his way into the end zone eight times this season.
"It's obvious we have a big challenge this week," Holliday said. "Everything that's been said about them, they deserve.
"I'm glad this game is at home, and our kids are excited to be back playing at home."
Tulsa won last year's contest 59-17 in Oklahoma. They are 3-0 against Marshall all time.