By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Two big things can happen today at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
First, Marshall can become bowl-eligible and move one step closer to winning a division championship. Second, the Thundering Herd can exact some revenge.
It was 364 days ago that Marshall went into Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., and lost 38-31 to UAB. That game forced the Herd to win out for bowl eligibility, something it could not convert after a 64-58 double-overtime loss at East Carolina in the last game of the regular season.
The Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) can erase all that with a win over the Blazers at noon today in Huntington.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday wants to be sure his players remember the feeling they had after dropping that game. The emotional factor is important, but he wants them to remember how they felt physically.
“You have to respect that team coming in here. They physically beat us last year,” said Holliday, who planned on making sure they understand it during practice Tuesday. “Hopefully that is motivation for our guys to make sure that we have a great practice today, because today is going to be a physical practice and our most physical of the week. I’m hoping when our kids run on the field for practice today that they remember how physically beaten they were by this team last year. Hopefully that happens.”
Marshall trailed the Blazers 24-7 at halftime before orchestrating a second-half comeback. Still, the Blazers had 232 of their 406 total yards after the break.
“They were especially physical in that second half,” Holliday said. “We had an opportunity to get them stopped, and we didn’t do it. Our kids have to respect this football team because what they did to us a year ago and because they have the ability to come in here and beat us if we do not take care of business in our preparation.”
The Blazers (2-6, 1-3) like to run the ball, but a start like the Herd had last week against Southern Miss would help in getting UAB out of its game plan. Marshall scored 28 points in the first quarter on its way to beating the Golden Eagles 61-13.
Likewise, UTSA jumped to a 24-0 lead against the Blazers two weeks ago in winning 52-31.
“I think it is critical in any game to start fast, and this will be no different,” Holliday said. “Hopefully we can get out of the gates here like we did a week ago.”
Stopping the run was a problem in Marshall’s 51-49 loss at Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 24. Marshall gave up a season-worst 308 yards on the ground in that game.
That, plus the chance to avenge last season’s loss, should serve as motivation for the Herd.
“If they weren’t disappointed with the way they played at MT, then we have problems,” Holliday said. “They played a lot better this past week, but it’s going to be even more critical and a bigger challenge this week. We told them on Sunday to go put their big boy pants on, because it is going to be a physical, get-after-them type of game. If that offensive line is able to physically get after our defensive line, then it’s going to be a long afternoon. They’d better be ready and had better come out and play like they did against Southern Miss.”
A win today would make the Herd bowl-eligible this early for the first time since it was 6-3 in 2003, although it did not play in a bowl game that year.
“There’s no doubt that becoming bowl-eligible was one of our goals, but it’s just one of them,” Holliday said. “The ultimate goal is to go win a championship. The only way to get to that goal is to go get this next one, which will be number six. We have to focus on ourselves this week and becoming a better football team. We have to go out and play like crazy on Saturday and see what happens. There is no doubt that is important.”
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