By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall football coach Doc Holliday doesn’t deny how much he enjoys playing on Thursday nights. The Thundering Herd’s matchup tonight at Middle Tennessee State will be one of only two games in the entire country and will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.
“I like Thursday night games because of the exposure our program gets,” Holliday said. “Any time we can get the ‘M’ on television on a national stage, it helps recruiting and helps in all areas. From an exposure standpoint, I do like it.”
But there is also a downside. The odd week has forced the Herd into practice times when they normally find themselves in class, and they basically missed all of Wednesday to travel to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game.
“What people don’t understand is the amount of class time our kids miss,” Holliday continued. “They need to be in class at 8 a.m. Friday morning, but they won’t even get back to Huntington until about 4 a.m. The amount of time that the kids miss in the classroom is bothersome. They have to find a way to get it done in the classroom, and they do.”
Marshall (3-3, 2-0 Conference USA) has an opportunity not only to strengthen its lead in the East Division, but also secure its best record through seven games since it was 4-3 in 2009.
One thing that would certainly help the Herd tonight is to improve a run game that has struggled of late. The Herd has run for just 236 yards in its last two games, conference wins over UTSA and Florida Atlantic.
“I think a lot of it is just taking what that defense gives us,” Holliday said. “There’s no doubt that we have to play better offensively in all phases than what we did (against FAU), and we will. We have to get back to those last couple drives. We looked how we were supposed to look out there. We were moving the ball both running it and throwing it. You have to do both and have to do a great job at taking what the defense gives you. We have to get back to doing a better job of that than the last time we played.”
It could help that the Blue Raiders (3-4, 1-2)—- who will be wearing black uniforms as part of their annual Blackout — are 12th in the league at stopping the run, allowing 195.4 yards per game. But they are also one of five teams tied for second in the country with 20 takeaways on the season.
“Turnovers have been a major plus for them,” Holliday said. “They’ve given up some yards, but when they get in the red zone, they’re better. They’re a good defense. They are very athletic and there’s a reason they went into Georgia Tech a year ago and put up a bunch of points on Georgia Tech and beat them at their place. They have so many good players and a lot of those players are back playing again this year.”
While there is question as to who will start at quarterback - senior Logan Kilgore or redshirt freshman Austin Grammer - MTSU will use its double-headed running attack of Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley. Parker averages 75.1 yards per game and has scored four touchdowns. Whatley has scored three times and averages 49.0.
With hopes of winning its first league title since 2002, Marshall can increase its visibility with a strong performance tonight.
“The exposure that Marshall gets is tremendous,” Holliday said. “The last thing I tell them every Thursday night as we leave the practice field is who is playing Thursday night. I tell them to go home and turn that game on and watch. That’s what every coach in America is going to be telling their team Thursday night - ‘Go watch the Marshall and Middle Tennessee game and see what they’re all about.’
“The exposure is outstanding and we are lucky to get that.”
— E-mail: gfauber