The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

December 26, 2013

Herd puts on bowling shoes

Marshall takes on Maryland in Military Bowl on ESPN today

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nobody wanted to contradict a 90-year-old Medal of Honor recipient at Thursday’s Military Bowl banquet in the nation’s capital.

The Maryland faithful gave it a try, though.

West Virginia native “Woody” Williams, a veteran of the fight for Iwo Jima in World War II, addressed both the Marshall and Maryland football teams from the ballroom podium in downtown Washington, D.C. Before getting serious, he held up a trinket topped with a clear globe.

“This is my crystal ball, and it says … ‘Marshall by 6,’ ” he said with a straight face.

It took several minutes, after Williams gave a dramatic, patriotic talk, before a radio announcer for Maryland claimed back the microphone and said his crystal ball was predicting “Maryland by 10.”

The prolific Marshall offense and its improved defense will be trying to prove Williams right today in the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.

The Thundering Herd (9-4) has a chance for its first 10-win season since 2002, when Byron Leftwich quarterbacked Marshall to an 11-2 mark.

Doc Holliday, Marshall’s head coach, is very aware of what that means to the school’s fans.

“I’ve only had three jobs,” the 56-year old fourth-year Marshall coach said. “I have never been to a job, in a football program, with a fan base, and community, a school are so dedicated. … .”

He recalled, as a teenager, hearing about the 1970 Marshall plane crash that killed most of that year’s team. He also mentioned the Marshall teams of the 1990s that won two NCAA Division I-AA national championships.

“It’s a great place,” he said.

The Maryland Terrapins (7-5) will be playing only 27 miles from their campus, in the Maryland state capital for the first time since 1965. Maryland was in the Military Bowl in 2010, defeating East Carolina 51-20, but that game was played at RFK Stadium in Washington.

This year’s Military Bowl, sponsored by Northrop Grumman, is the first one ever to be played in Annapolis.

Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, talked at the banquet about his assessment of Holliday.

“Doc and I go back a long time,” Edsall said, mentioning how they recruited together in Florida “for many, many years,” for different collegiate programs.

“I know his team is going to be well prepared,” Edsall said. “They’re going to be physical, they’re going to be tough, they’re going to be disciplined. That’s the way he is, and that’s the way he approaches everything he’s done in coaching.”

Though Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has generated headlines with his 3,579 passing yards and 36 touchdowns this season, the Herd hopes to balance the attack with running plays. Senior Essray Taliaferro has already run for 1,059 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Added together, Marshall ranks seventh nationally with an average of 43 points per game, and is 12th in NCAA Division I in total offense, averaging 502.3 yards per outing.

Holliday did not short-change his defense on Thursday, either. “We have 12 to 14 new faces on that defense that are playing this year,” he said. He credited coordinator Chuck Heater and the defensive staff with a “tremendous job of coaching them up.”

Marshall has been allowing 23.2 points per game and Maryland is yielding 24.8 on average.

Edsall said, “It’s a little bit of a chess match. You see the things that they do defensively … but some of those things that they do might not work as well against what we do.”

“We’ve studied them, we think we have a good handle on what they’re going to do. But then, also, they’ve got to defend us, what we bring to the table.”

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown has thrown for 2,045 yards, some of it out of necessity, since the Terrapins’ 144.6 rushing yards per game is 89th in Division I.

Brown missed two Maryland games this year due to injury.

“This team has been through a lot,” Brown said Thursday. “Injuries are part of the game. The ‘next-man-up’ mentality has been there for us.”

Edsall said, “They understood that if this guy went down, these guys are going to go in and do the job. … It’s a team. It’s not just one or two guys.”

— E-mail: tbone

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