By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Two teams desperate for bowl eligibility, each with its own source of inspiration, will close out football at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for 2012.
Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) will host Houston at noon today on Senior Day. Wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Snipes-Booker, linebacker Devin Arrington, offensive lineman John Bruhin, running back Martin Ward and safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha will go through their final home game routine for the Thundering Herd.
Sending them out as winners is more important than just leaving with a positive image. For the second year in a row, the Herd cannot lose its final two games if it wants to play in a bowl game for the third time in four seasons.
That scenario was forced by last week’s 38-31 loss at UAB. Marshall was held to a season-low 337 yards of offense.
The Blazers made things tough on the Herd running game, even though they dropped eight defenders into coverage. That strategy is now on tape, of course. Might the Cougars give it a try?
“Well, this is a copycat business,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “They (the Cougars) have the ability to go three down. There’s no doubt that we know if that happens, we have to be able to handle it. And we will. We’ll be fine there.
“They have not shown that up to this point, but can they? Absolutely.”
The Herd did show the ability to adjust, albeit not soon enough. They made a serious comeback attempt with 17 fourth-quarter points, but could not recover the onside kick after Gator Hoskins’ 3-yard touchdown catch with 1:41 left.
Houston, meanwhile, comes in with the same overall and conference records as Marshall, thus facing the same must-win situation. And the Cougars are playing with the inspiration of defensive back D.J. Hayden, who survived a near-fatal injury sustained during practice last week.
Hayden’s inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body back to the heart, was torn. He underwent immediate surgery and was released from the hospital Monday. He delivered a message to the team later that evening.
Houston no longer has NCAA record-setting quarterback Case Keenum at the controls, but sophomore David Piland has had a good year. He has completed 255 of 447 passes for 2,942 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Piland took over as the starter as a true freshman in 2010, after Keenum was lost for the year after a knee injury he suffered against UCLA. Piland was actually the third-team QB that season, and he redshirted last year.
Junior Charles Sims leads the Houston running game, averaging 106.1 yards per game. He has 849 yards and 11 touchdowns on 139 carries.
Sims has missed the last two games because of injury and his status was questionable this week.
Another weapon is kicker Matt Hogan, who is 14 of 19 on field goal attempts and perfect on 36 PATs. He has not missed from 50-plus yards (50, 50 and 52).
After today, Marshall will close the regular season at East Carolina the day after Thanksgiving. For now, the focus is on beating the Cougars and not being taken out of their up-tempo attack.
“When you have guys rushing three down, you have to be able to run the football. You have to get them out of that,” Holliday said. “During the second half of the UAB game, we said we were going to just get back in tempo. When you drop eight there are very few seams to stick the ball into. We had some great throws and great catches. We just have to get back to doing that.
“Regardless of what they do, we have to do what we do.”