Friday, February 27, 2015

RECAP: Kristina Braxton Big Day Paces the Herd to Win Number 12

COLUMBIA, S.C.-- Timely hits and clutch at-bats is something Marshall Softball head coach Shonda Stanton has been looking for this season from her squad. Friday afternoon versus Tennessee State she got both in a 9-1 five-inning run-rule win to open the Carolina Classic.

Dave Myslenski/Kristina Braxton slams a hit for the Herd.
Kristina Braxton led the Herd with a 3-for-3 performance at the plate which included two singles, a double, 2 RBI and scoring the game-clinching run in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Both teams traded lead-off opportunities to open the contest only to come up short after the first inning. While the Tigers struggled to find an answer to Jordan Dixon, Braxton gave the Herd a 1-0 lead after smashing a two-out double off the wall in left field to score Kaitlin Lucas.

Marshall added two more runs in the third after Kaelynn Greene single through the hole to left before moving up to second on a fielding error by the left fielder. Greene swiped her ninth bag in as many attempts to move to third. Elicia D'Orazio walked to put runners at the corners to set up Stanton's aggressive approach on the bases.

Greene plated the Herd's second run of the game after Taylor Green's pitch got away from Tigers' catcher Lindsey Burgess which also allowed D'Orazio to move to third after moving up to second on the pitch. Lucas earned her second free pass of the game on another hit-by-pitch and was able to keep herself in a run-down long enough to allow D'Orazio to score for a 3-0 Marshall lead.

Tennessee State threatened in the fourth after a one-out double by Lauren Dreitlein and a walk to Joselynn Yates placed two runners on with only one out. Dixon earned the second out of the inning on an infield fly to D'Orazio but nearly allowed the Tigers to climb back into the contest on one swing of the bat by Cariona Hassell.

The freshman ripped a drive into the gap in left-center field only to have the rally shot down on a great play from Greene to end the inning.

Marshall responded again in the fourth after a one-out walk by Taylor McCord followed by a RBI single by Braxton, allowing pinch runner Jordan Colliflower to score from first for a 4-0 lead.

With Braxton delivering the clutch hits for the Herd, all Stanton was waiting for was the big hit to blow the game open.

She did not have to wait long as freshman Kylie Howard blasted a two-run homer to deep center giving Marshall a 6-0 lead. It was Howard's first career home run for the Herd. Morgan Zerkle continue the attack with an infield single but appeared to be stranded once again at second before Marshall received a reprieve on a coaching error by the Tigers.
Dave Myslenski/Kylie Howard sends one deep for the Herd.

D'Orazio initially ended the inning after grounding out to the Yates at third base only to return to the plate for another swing after the umpires learned that Yates had not been officially re-entered into the contest giving the Herd another scoring opportunity.

Zerkle took third on a wild pitch and scored on a RBI infield single by D'Orazio and a 7-0 lead after four complete.

However, the Tigers would not go away quietly as their patience at the plate earned back-to-back walks to open the fifth and chased Dixon from the circle. Brittanie Fowler entered the game in relief as Danica Gleason welcomed her to the game with a single to center to load the bases with no outs.

But as the Herd has been able to do much of the time this season, the defense would come through when it was needed the most. Courtney Gearalds sent a sharp liner up the middle only to have D'Orazio snag it for the first out then spin and tag Tayler Shimizo at second for the Herd's eighth double play of the season. Kailey Richard pushed across the first run for the Tigers after ripping a ball down the line into the left field corner for what appeared to be a two-out 2RBI double. However, after a Marshall appeal, Gleason was ruled out for missing second base which negated her run and would end the inning.
Dave Myslenski/Elicia D'Orazio applies a tag vs Auburn.

Lucas would lead off the home fifth with a four-pitch walk then moved up to second on a fielder's choice by McCord for the second out of the inning. But the hot-hitting Braxton smacked a hot chopper of the glove of the shortstop Hassell into center field for her second RBI of the game and an 8-1 Herd lead setting up Howard at the play for a chance to win it.

Howard collected her second hit of the game as she sent a ball up the middle for a single that sent Braxton over to third. After an errant throw from the center fielder skipped away from the Tigers' third baseman, Braxton trotted to the plate for a 9-1 Marshall win.

With the win Marshall continues to add to its best start in program history now at 12-3 as it awaits Charleston Southern and host South Carolina tomorrow afternoon with first pitch scheduled at 12:30 p.m.

NOTES: Dixon took over sixth place all-time for strikeouts as the sophomore recorded six in the win today pushing her total to 363. Dixon is now three shy of tying Natasha Johnson for fifth place. Zerkle is now three hits shy of 100 as a member of the Herd after the sophomore finished 1-for-2 in the contest. She also moved into eighth overall for stolen bases after swiping her 69th in the win.

Saturday's game with Charleston Southern will be the seventh meeting between the programs with the Buc's stealing a 3-2 win in eight innings in 2012. Marshall and South Carolina have met only once with the Herd knocking off the Gamecocks 8-5 in 1995.

Final Weekend of Non-Conference Play for Herd Softball

Marshall Softball has raced out to an 11-3 record to start this season and could have easily been 13-1 with a couple breaks against Towson and Auburn. So before we wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play, I give you a tidbits to hold you over until first pitch with Tennessee State later on today.

Give It Your Best Effort

Through its first 14 games, the Herd is out to the best start in school history. Marshall's best start was 10-3 during the 2010 season. Marshall's 10-1 start was also the best one-loss start in school history since the 8-1 start by the 1996 squad.

Catch Me If You Can

When a Marshall base runner gets on base, look fast or you may miss them. The Herd has swiped 52 stolen bases in 64 attempts this season including sophomore Morgan Zerkle with a team-leading 20. The 52 swipes lead Conference USA by 18 over Florida Atlantic. To put in perspective the dominance the Herd is having on the base paths, the top three spots in the category belongs to the Herd. Zerkle (21) lead the league followed by freshman Elicia D'Orazio (9) and junior Kaelynn Greene (8) rounding out the top three.

The Power Of Z

There is no secret that Marshall goes as Zerkle goes. Its no secret the Preseason All-Conference Team member is a terror on the base paths, but what she brings to the plate is what separates her from the rest. While she leads CUSA in hits (29), the manner those hits have been collected are as different as white and black. A slapper by trade, Zerkle has orchestrated several perfectly placed bunts that left the defense shaking its head as the speedster crosses first base. But Zerkle offers another weapon at the plate that many slappers don't consistently do, she can drive the ball into the gaps and run for days. Zerkle owns one of four Marshall home runs this season but its the only one that did not fly over the fence. Instead, it just flew over the outfielders head and rolled to the wall in center field. When Zerkle paces this team at the top, Marshall is a tough out top to bottom.

Marshall Tamed The Tigers

Flip the calendar back one year to Marshall vs Auburn and the results from the 19-5 five-inning loss to the Tigers may shock you. Especially considering the Herd nearly knocked off the No. 14 ranked Tigers last week in Tampa before falling 5-4. The difference in the two contests, defense. Marshall had as many errors (7) in that contest as it did hits while giving up a season high 19 runs. Although the Tigers picked up their loss to Dartmouth prior to playing the Herd, Marshall pushed in the seven-inning contest with a chance to tie or win in the bottom frame only to come up short. While a win would have been huge for the Herd, the ability to erase a 5-1 deficit after three innings speaks volumes about this team's character.

A Quick Peak At The Carolina Classic

Marshall has a great opportunity to not only continue to build on its hot start to the season before heading to Miami next weekend to begin conference play, but also send a message to the voters that this team is for real. Marshall has four games this weekend in the Classic with the final two being pivotal in sending its message. The Herd opens the event against Tennessee State Friday afternoon in what will be only the fifth meeting of the schools. The Tigers earned their only win over the Herd in that 2009 meeting with a 9-8 eighth-inning walk-off walk.

Saturday afternoon brings the Herd's lone double-header of the weekend with games against Charleston Southern and host South Carolina. Marshall last faced Charleston Southern in 2012 which resulted in the Buc's only win over the Herd in six attempts. The Herd fell 3-2 in eight innings in that contest. The Buc's head coach Shane Winkler served as an assistant for the Herd from 2006-08. His club enters the event 9-4 after splitting with Tennessee Tech last time out.

The second game of the twin bill pits Marshall and South Carolina in only the second meeting between the programs. The Herd bettered the Gamecocks in the 1995 with an 8-5 win. The Gamecocks enter the event 12-4 fresh off a 3-1 win over Western Carolina Thursday night in a game that pitchers Julie Sarratt and Nickie Blue combined to one-hit the Catamounts. South Carolina has yet to lose at home this season.

In the final day of the event for the Herd, Sunday morning brings another ranked opponent in No. 24 South Alabama. The Jaguars enter the event 11-3 and own a win in the only meeting between the teams after knocking off the Herd 1-0 last season in Boca Raton. The Jags have won their last three games.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Herd Softball ECU Pirate Clash Weekend Wrap Up 2/15/15

GREENVILLE, N.C.—Hot off a 5-0 start last week at the Charleston Challenge, Marshall Softball took its undefeated record to the East Carolina Pirate Clash this past weekend. Marshall finished the event with a record of 3-1 with wins over host ECU, Bucknell and East Tennessee State while suffering its first loss of the season to Towson.

“I was very proud of the team this weekend,” Marshall Softball head coach
Shonda Stanton said. “ECU was the first game this year that we’ve had to battle back from being down and it was great to see those seventh inning clutch hits to come through for the win.”

Marshall opened the event with host East Carolina and had to battle through a challenge it had yet to face this season, losing. Entering the event, the Herd had yet to trail in a game but found itself down 2-0 after the first inning to the Pirates after they sent eight batters to the plate to start the contest. 

Herd ace Jordan Dixon struggled through the first two innings issuing three hits, a walk and plunking two before settling in for what proved to a record breaking night for the sophomore.

Marshall found its first answer for the 2-0 deficit in the fifth inning after Kristina Braxton delivered a bases-loaded pinch hit single to score Kylie Howard cutting the lead to 2-1. ECU responded in the bottom of the frame with a solo shot by Pirate shortstop Casey Alcorn making it 3-1.

Dave Myslenski/ Elicia D'Orazio
steps to the plate.
The Herd was down to its final strike twice in the top of the seventh but a RBI triple from Elicia D’Orazio brought Morgan Zerkle to the plate followed by a game-tying RBI single by Shaelynn Braxton that scored D’Orazio to tie the contest at three.

Marshall took the lead for good in the top of the ninth after Rebecca Myslenski scored the fourth run of the game for a 4-3 lead. However, the biggest play of the game possibly came on a stolen base attempt of Zerkle. After swiping third, Zerkle never slowed after an errant throw by the catcher allowed her to score to give the Herd a 5-3 lead.

ECU would threaten in the bottom of the ninth after a two-out single cut the lead to 5-4 but a groundball to Howard at short would end the Pirate rally giving the Herd its sixth win of the season.
Dave Myslenski/ Jordan Dixon works
in the circle for the Herd.
After a rough start to the contest, Dixon finished with a career-high 16 strikeouts in the winning effort.

Day two of the event pitted Marshall and Towson in the first ever meeting between the programs. The Herd jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on the Tigers after Zerkle led off the contest with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a RBI single by Shaelynn Braxton. Towson went hitless into the fourth inning before a two-out bunt single by Missy McCormick gave the Tigers their first baserunner of the game. However, another solid outing by Dixon limited the Tigers opportunities after she retired eight batters via the strikeout through four innings.

Marshall held the lead into the fifth but Towson found a spark in the home half of the inning after Holiday Cahill left the yard to tie the contest followed by three consecutive singles and a RBI double and a 3-1 Towson lead.

The Herd threatened in the top of the seventh inning with three singles by Katalin Lucas, Emily Cooper and Zerkle loaded the bases with one out. Taylor McCord dribbled a ball of the bat to the third baseman that came home to cut down Lucas’ scoring effort for the second out. With the bases still loaded, D’Orazio sent a hot chopper back to the pitcher in the circle and with a quick flip to first, Marshall picked up its first loss of the season.

“Honestly we were a little flat against Towson and offensively we didn’t get our sticks going like we needed to for a win,” Stanton said. “I like that we had the bases loaded in the seventh but couldn’t get the clutch hit we needed for the win.”

Marshall looked to bounce back Saturday morning against Bucknell after the Bison dropped its first game of the season Friday night to ETSU. The Herd jumped on the Bison in the first with back-to-back infield singles by Zerkle and Kaelynn Greene and took a 2-0 lead after Shaelynn Braxton sent a 2-RBI double into the gap in left field. Lucas followed with a RBI double of her own to score Braxton then scored on a RBI single from Cooper for a 4-0 lead.

Bucknell answered in the bottom frame of the first after a two-out single from Cydnee Sanders led to back-to-back Herd errors and two unearned Bison runs.  The Bison continued to attack Dixon in the circle but stellar defense halted the rally efforts. D’Orazio opened the inning with a backhand snag on a ball up the middle only to have Shaelynn Braxton make a diving stop and cut the runner down at first on a throw from her knees. The infield duo earned the approval of the ace in the circle.

“It gives me so much confidence and motivation when they make plays like that,” Dixon said. “Honestly its really fun to watch them make those plays.”

The Herd fourth started with three singles by D’Orazio, Zerkle and Greene putting the pressure back on the Bison hurler in the circle. Myslenski pushed across the fifth run of the game after earning a bases loaded walk to score D’Orazio and Zerkle would tag on a Lucas sac fly for a 6-2 lead.

Falecia Collier/ Morgan Zerkle ready
to steal another base.
But this day belonged to Morgan Zerkle. With McCord and D’Orazio reaching to start the fifth, the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team member ripped a ball over the head of the drawn in outfielders for a three-run inside the park homerun. Cooper made it a 10-2 Herd lead on a RBI single to left to score Lucas.

Zerkle said the deep ball in the gap was a plan set in motion from Stanton.

“We had talked about it before the at bat and how close the outfield was pulled in,” Zerkle said. “It was good to have a plan in place and be able to go out and execute.”

Bucknell added a run in the bottom of the fifth but would get no closer as Marshall secured an 11-3 six-inning mercy rule win. Dixon earned her seventh win of the season after fanning 11 Bison hitters without issuing a walk. Zerkle finished 5-for-5 scoring four runs, driving in three RBI and swiping three bases.

“After beating out the throw on a swinging bunt in her fifth at-bat I just looked across at her and laughed,” said Stanton.  “She (Zerkle) is that good and gifted and this game is so much about what’s between the ears and having the confidence in what you’re doing. Right now, she has that and it’s fun to watch.”

Marshall closed out the event against ETSU as Zerkle picked up where she left off with Bucknell, picking up her eighth consecutive hit to open the game. Zerkle stole second and third and scored on a throwing error by the Bucs' catcher for a 1-0 Herd lead.

Marissa Bethke earned the start in the final game of the event but was lifted before finishing the first after walking the bases loaded. Brittanie Fowler entered the game in relief for the freshman Bethke and pitched out of the first-inning jam behind the first of many spectacular defensive plays by Howard at short.

Dave Myslenski/ Brittanie Fowler works
in the circle for the Herd.
“I was really excited to get into the game and even though there were runners on I wasn’t too worried about it,” said Fowler. “I have a really strong defense behind me so I wasn’t too worried about getting out of the jam.”

Marshall added runs in the second and fourth innings grabbing a 3-0 lead over ETSU but it’s was the defensive production by the freshman Howard that stole the show.

Howard robbed Danielle Knoetze of a sure hit after fielding a ball deep in the hole to end the third, picked a hot chopper off the dirt in the fifth, recorded all three outs in the sixth but saved her best play of the season for the final inning.

After issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh, Fowler turned the ball over to Dixon to close out the contest. Dixon had to worry about the leadoff walk for only one batter after Howard closed out her defensive display with a 6-3 double play on a hard-hit ball destined for center field.

“I’ve just been trying to focus defensively since I haven’t been able to get things going at the plate,” Howard said. “Whenever Fowler is pitching I am more alert up the middle because she forces a lot of ground ball that way and I just was in the right spot to make the play.

Dave Myslenski/ Howard readies to field
a ball for the Herd.
Stanton complimented the 2012 West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year saying how important of a piece of the defensive puzzle Howard has become.

“She (Howard) is an incredible athlete as she has the speed, range and the strong arm at her position,” Stanton said. “She made every play today we needed her to make and how nice for Fowler to finally have people behind her to make plays.”

Fowler earned her first win of the season while Dixon picked her first save. 

While Fowler worked to keep the Buc's off balance throughout the contest, it was one pitch that Stanton said was crucial in the performance.

“Coach Bell did a nice job of mix in that change-up today and it was on,” Stanton said. “Fowler made them look silly on some pitches and if she can keep her pitches down in the zone like she did today, she will contribute to the program significantly this season.”

Marshall is out to its best start since 2010 when the Herd started 7-2. Moving to 8-1 this season, the Herd has achieved its eighth win this season in 18 fewer games than during the 2014 campaign.

The Herd heads to Tampa, FL this week for the USF Wilson DeMarini Tournament. Marshall opens the event with Dartmouth and USF Friday and No. 17 Auburn Saturday followed by two more games still to be determined.

Opening Thoughts on Herd Softball

This started as a football blog but what the hey, its spring time. Well almost as it certainly feels like it should be since NCAA baseball and softball have kicked off their seasons. This blog will focus mostly on Herd diamond sports but every now and again I get a wild tangent I like to discuss. Feel free to comments on the posts and ask questions. I'll do my best to answer these to the best of my ability.
Falecia Collier/Herd Team gathers before the game.

So without further delay, let's play ball!

Marshall Softball is rolling after a 3-1 weekend in Greenville, N.C. at the East Carolina Pirate Snow Invitational and is 8-1 overall this season. Here is the craziest part of this year's team, they have had one, maybe two games they have hit the ball to the expectations. How is the Herd 8-1 you ask, lights out pitching by sophomore Jordan Dixon and spectacular defense every game. Do not read into the shortcoming of the offensive expectations as several players are off to a hot start, but the big hit and more importantly, the timely hits have been far and few between. Either way Coach Shonda Stanton's club is out to one of its best starts since she took over the program.

Through the first two weekend's, Marshall's 3-1 loss to Towson is the only blemish on the resume. But how can a team that took 27 games last season to capture eight wins do it in only nine games this season? One word easily answers that question, defense.

Falecia Collier/Dixon works in the circle for the Herd.
Everything starts in the circle for this team and the lady leading the way is Dixon. After picking up CUSA Co-Pitcher of the Week and College Sports Madness National Pitcher of the Week after her performances in week one, Dixon has solidified her spot as the ace for this Herd squad and this season she has backup. Junior Brittanie Fowler picked up her first win Saturday after working 5.2 innings of two-hit ball and appears to offer a solid number two in the rotation behind Dixon.

However, that is just the beginning as this season the defense resembles that of the 2013 team that appeared in the NCAA Regionals in Lexington, KY giving the pitching staff some much needed backup.

Falecia Collier/ Braxton slides into 3rd.
Locking down third base for the Herd is Shaelynn Braxton. Making the transition from the outfield to the hot corner last season, the junior has flashed the leather while daring runners to try to beat out the throw as she tosses darts across the diamond. Few balls get past her into the outfield and she is not afraid to wear a ball to keep it in the infield. Although Braxton has been a bit sluggish out of the gate at the plate, her defense has been solid.

Dave Myslenski/Howard works at
short for the Herd.
Falecia Collier/ D'Orazio fields
at 2nd for the Herd.
A look up the middle of the field finds something a bit unusual for a young team with early success, two freshman. Kylie Howard has become a rock at shortstop and Elicia D'Orazio is nothing short of amazing with her speed and range at second. The frosh combo appears to have played as teammates for years as their timing and communication is on point. Howard has a great step to the ball and can make a strong throw from the hole while turning the double play with sheer precision. Meanwhile, D'Orazio is a ground ball pitcher's dream as anything hit to the right side will typically find its way into her glove. Both Howard and D'Orazio have great range allowing the outfield to play a step or two deeper than normal without being out of position of a loopy liner or lazy fly ball. The duo's instincts are fun to watch and they have one speed they know how to play, all out. D'Orazio crashed head first into a fence Thursday night while trying to rob an out on a ball trying to get out of play and made a diving catch for a lazy fly ball just outside the circle last weekend for the final out of the inning. In a position Stanton has been looking for consistency, its safe to say the foundation of the infield starts here and the pieces are concreted in place.

Dave Myslenki/ Myslenksi
ready at 1st for the Herd.
First base for the Herd has given Stanton several options without sacrificing defensive production as she has three options available to rotate at the position and the offensive production of any of the three could be the deciding fac
tor. Rebecca Myslenski has shown to be the front runner for the Herd after bouncing back from a knee injury that slowed her last season. The sophomore has anchored the position with few mistakes while adding a nice stick to Stanton's lineup. While she works to learn the intricate details of the position, she has been rewarded with great defense to back her up after a miscue. Not to mention her presence at the plate has been a much needed stick in the bottom half of the order.

Providing backup to Myslenski are Alyssa Woodrum and Raquel Escareno. Woodrum has appeared in two games while working in pinch-hit duties in others. Escareno has worked at both first base and right field but has found herself on the outside looking in due to a quiet start at the plate. After a slow start at the plate in Charleston, S.C., the junior found some pop off the bat to open the tournament at ECU.

Dave Myslenski/ Lucas touches home
after going yard in Charleston, S.C.
Stanton finds a unique problem for a coach to have when placing a player behind the dish, two solid options in junior Katalin Lucas and freshman Taylor McCord. Lucas is a catcher by trade but also works at shortstop for the Herd. Behind the dish, Lucas receives and blocks the ball with precision and can snap throw to any base from her knees forcing opposing runners to think twice before leaking away from a bag. Lucas also gives the Herd a power bat in the lineup as she settled in the cleanup spot in Greenville. Lucas has great patience at the plate and seldom chases bad pitch out of the zone. She owns the only long ball for the Herd through the first nine games.

Falecia Collier/ McCord looks for
the sign. 
Giving Lucas a reliable backup behind the dish is McCord. As she makes the adjustment to the collegiate level, she brings a cannon of an arm to the table that has already cut down three runners this season. The frosh works well with all three Herd pitchers and provides Stanton future at the catcher position while offering production now.

Falecia Collier/ Zerkle with a bunt hit for the Herd.
The speed of Marshall's outfield may at times make seem as if there are four players in the grass rather than three. The Herd outfield contains two CUSA All-Preseason Players in Morgan Zerkle and Kaelynn Greene along with senior co-captain Emily Cooper who has come on strong to start the season. Zerkle anchors the Herd outfield in center field and provides gap-to-gap speed. The sophomore is coming off an unbelievable weekend at ECU including a 5-for-5 performance in the win over Bucknell which included four singles, a three-run inside the park homerun, four runs and three stolen bases. Zerkle paces the team batting .656 this season and wreaks havoc on the bases anytime she gets on.

Dave Myslenski/ Greene
at the plate.
Greene has moved into left this season in the outfield but has had little trouble making the move. Much like Zerkle, she game cover the left-center gap with ease while expanding her range deep into foul territory. Greene provides a powerful one-two punch with Zerkle at the top of the order for the Herd and poses the speed to leg out even the shortest bunts that trickle into fair territory. When Greene and Zerkle occupy the base paths at the same time, opposing pitchers are limited on the pitch selections because of the speed factor by the duo.

Starting her senior season as a utility player for the Herd, Cooper earned a spot in the lineup card with a solid performance in the Charleston Challenge. Cooper continued her hot start in Greenville adding a multi-resourceful stick at the plate. Mix that with the speed she adds gives Stanton another tool for her aggressive style of play on the bases.
Dave Myslenski/ Cooper fires up
the team after a hit.

With everything mentioned above its hard to believe that Stanton could have anything left, but as the late night infomercial says, "But waits there's more!"

Senior Kristina Braxton provides Stanton a solid option in the outfield and a left-handed stick off the bench to pinch hit. Braxton does a great job providing senior leadership in a utility role for this team and while bring gap-to-gap power to the plate.

Step inside Stanton's stable of utility players and one will find freshmen Jordan Calliflower and Madi Marshall who offer good speed as pinch runners off the bench. Stanton also has Marissa Bethke inside the circle who is trying to find her way along in her first season with the Herd. The righty has Dixon like pop on her delivery but has struggled to find the zone in her two outings this season. Should she find that command, Stanton may feel like Christmas came early this year with three viable options inside the circle.

Dave Myslenski/ Fowler
works in the circle.
Stanton's club is off to its best start since 2010 after starting 7-2 through the first nine games. Coming off a 28-31 season after getting out to a 2-8 start in 2014, Stanton has the pitching and defense the 2014 team lacked. However, the offensive production has not met the expectations of the 16-year coach who is only 12 wins from 500 in her career. This includes appearances in the CUSA Championship game in each of the past three seasons, including a NCAA Regional berth after defeating Houston for the CUSA title in 2013.

This team has All-American talent planted right here in Huntington and wearing green and white. Stanton has shown she is not afraid to take on any level of talent with her non-conference scheduling each season in preparation for another run in May in hopes of another championship. But this season, expectations are much higher for Stanton, calling this team "special" several times this season. Stanton has said several times this season the most difficult thing for her and the staff is properly managing this team with all the talent that is available. Sounds like a great problem to have considering 12 of the 21 members are underclassmen.

Sounds like Stanton has poured a solid foundation to not only take CUSA by storm but the nation as well. The expectations are there now its time to answer the call.

Starting 8-1 this season sounds like a nice hello.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

COLUMN: CFP Committee Plays Press Your Luck While Avoiding the Dreaded Whammy

After seeing this week’s latest College Football Playoff rankings, one could be left with a sense of how certain teams got in while others are on the outside looking in.

I think I have the answer.

Remember the game show Press Your Luck with host Peter Tomarken? The game where players take big risks for big bucks.

Welcome to the modern day game show where college football rankings are the prize, the committee of 12 as the players, committee chair Jeff Long as the host and any loss to a Group of 5 school will take any form of credibility from the Power 5 program.

The object of the game is to stop the flashing box on teams within the P5 conferences while avoiding the G5 teams known as the Whammy which could crumble the foundation of the football powerhouse country club.

Paints an interesting picture doesn’t it.

After seeing the latest Top 25 rankings that were released Tuesday evening, this was the picture that came to mind. Especially for teams ranked from 21-25.

For the second week in a row, teams from the G5 were left out of the latest ranking. So again, the question is which team is in the lead for that coveted “Golden Ticket” which provides the highest ranked G5 team a spot in a New Year’s Eve College Access Bowl against an At-Large Power 5 team.
This is the agony for teams such as Marshall (9-0), Colorado State (9-1) and Boise State (7-2) as they are left in the dark wondering what waits in the future for their programs while every week must play at near perfection for any hope of cracking into the rankings.

Unfortunately, the committee slammed the stopper safely to avoid that dreaded “Whammy” from stealing away all the goods.

I cannot get past the image of hearing the members of the committee saying “Power 5, Power 5 and No G5, I mean Whammies…STOP!”, followed by Jeff Long saying stop on SEC Texas A&M and it will be our No. 24 team in the ranking. This process is once again followed with the flashing box stopping on Minnesota at No. 25.

Comical huh? So are the latest rankings.

Fresh off a 41-38 upset over No. 3 Auburn, the committee felt compelled to include the Aggies even though had 3 losses in the SEC and a narrow 21-16 win over University Louisiana-Monroe. Let’s not forget about Minnesota that darkened the doorstep at No. 25 after a 51-14 win over Iowa.

Certainly seems that something was forgotten by the committee, the Gophers two losses to TCU and a 4-5 Illinois two weeks ago. What happened to the entire body of work?

At this point I don’t think the committee cares about the body of work as long. Just as long as no one stops on a Whammy, everyone at the country club will be uber happy while enjoying the view from inside.

Unfortunately for the G5 schools, the committee knows the pattern of the flashing box. Although the Whammy was entertaining on the television show as it danced across the screen while taking all the players money, there will be no dancing Whammies anytime soon by the G5, only Jeff Long saying stop on another P5 school that joins this week’s ranking.

Friday, November 7, 2014

COLUMN: Winning is Easy as 1,2...

Ask any coach in the nation if he/she would rather have a win or a take a loss over a quality opponent. I would imagine the results would be a landslide of a response; take the win. Now ask the same question to the College Football Playoff committee and the response may shock you. Suddenly, a quality loss seems to hold more stature in the eyes of the 12 member committee rather than a win.

Welcome to the confusion that is the College Football Playoffs where strength of schedule is important and winning is not everything. Just ask 8-0 Marshall football—who happens to be one of three undefeated teams in the nation—as the Thundering Herd finds itself ranked No. 23 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll, No. 22 in the Amway Coaches Poll but remains unranked in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

Even the College Football Playoff Committee Chair Jeff Long appeared to have lost count on the number of undefeated teams in the nation when he addressed the media after the latest rankings were revealed.

“Certainly we talked about undefeated teams and as you know there are two,” Long said when asked of the value of being undefeated. However, Long found himself having to make an adjustment as he continued his remarks.

“Again we started back at the beginning, well there are three undefeated teams,” quickly corrected Long before continuing his statement.

So which team did he forget about? No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 Florida State or unranked Marshall, all of which are 8-0 this season.

“At this point we stop ranking at 25 because that’s our charge,” Long said of ranking teams outside of the Top 25 until a ranking is established for the top G5 school. “So we don’t rank beyond 25.”

Numbers do not lie but I will leave the decision to you the reader to decide which of the three Long forgot.

Welcome to the Power 5 country club where the invited are welcomed and the rest may look but not touch. This is the setting teams such as Marshall, Colorado State and Boise State currently find themselves a part of with no real explanation of where they stand against the nation, or one another, in sight anytime soon.

Still not convinced of the parity between the P5 and G5 schools? A simple break down of the new No. 24 team in the rankings Georgia Tech will surely clear this up. As a member of the powerful ACC, GT has played Wofford (Southern), Tulane (AAC) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt) during its non-conference schedule. As a whole, the three teams are a combined 14-11 and none are a member 
of a P5 school. However, GT plays four non-conference games this season.

Who is the fourth? No. 20 Georgia (SEC).

“As I said last week, our meeting this week would begin with a clean sheet of paper and it did,” Long said of the latest rankings meeting.

Perhaps not completely clean as a 7-2 Georgia Tech appears to be receiving some credibility for the Georgia game that has yet to play. After all, Tech lost in back-to-back weeks to No. 22 Duke (7-1) and North Carolina (4-5). Georgia Tech’s overall conference schedule is 29-24 with four of its five opponents having losing records.

Did I mention that Georgia Tech received only 15 points in the AP Poll (29th) and 32 in the Coaches Poll (28th)? Marshall received 238 in the AP and 253 in the Coaches Poll while Colorado State earned 67 and 81 respectively.

But no worries, Georgia Tech is looked at as a member of the “country club” so of course a 7-2 ACC team looks much better than an 8-0 Marshall from CUSA or 8-1 Colorado State from Mountain West.
However, compare Georgia Tech’s non-conference strength of schedule thus far to that of Marshall and Colorado State and the numbers say different.

Tech’s non-conference average according to the Sagarin Ratings is a staggering 128.7 through three games. Marshall, who supposedly had a laugher of non-conference schedule, is 120 through its four non-conference games while Colorado State is a 73 although three of its four non-conference opponents have collectively won 4 games.

A message the G5 schools can take from this, stay off the lawn and do not get finger prints on the glass while looking in at “Big Boy” football.

So for future reference, do not schedule games that are inviting to your fan base or teams that perhaps were relevant when those schedules were created four or more years ago. Instead, schedule every non-conference game with teams that will provide a quality loss therefore beefing up the strength of schedule.

After all, winning is so easy in today’s game that college football has more undefeated teams than one can account for.

Just ask Jeff Long. It’s as easy as 1, 2...oh I forgot what comes next.

Friday, September 26, 2014

COLUMN: Marshall Football's Strength of Schedule Flew South for a Win

Marshall football is 4-0 for the first time since 1999 after running through its competition in non-conference play. However, Marshall still has yet to receive much credit for many of the team’s accomplishments through the first third of the season.

Marshall is the only team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games. Only Oregon was able to challenge Marshall in this category but fell two points shy in its 38-31 win over Washington State Saturday night.

The Herd is ranked sixth nationally and leads the Group of Five schools with a 29.3-point scoring margin.

Marshall’s defense has yet to surrender a touchdown in the first half this season while outscoring its opponents 103-6.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But none of this really matters because the Herd’s strength of schedule is the fourth weakest of the 128 FBS schools according to Phil Steele’s 2014 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings.

At least this is how many of the “experts” view the Herd.

The concept I do not understand is that Marshall is nationally ranked in many categories—something many said was a must for the Herd to overcome its weak schedule—but has yet to earn the respect it deserves.

After all, Marshall handpicked this weak schedule right?

Not so fast. Actually the Herd should not be in a bye week but rather finalizing game preparation for its upcoming opponent at Joan C. Edwards Stadium this Saturday. In case you have forgotten who the opponent was, allow me to refresh your memory.

It was the Louisville Cardinals. The 3-1 Louisville Cardinals of the ACC, which is a member of the “Power Five” conferences.

After Louisville bolted from the AAC to join the ACC, the Cardinals had to shuffle its schedule to accommodate its new conference opponents. Plus they picked up a game with Notre Dame in South Bend at the end of the season.

So who gets left standing on the outside looking in? Certainly not a Power Five conference team? And who would tell Norte Dame no? Louisville certainly would not turn down a trip to South Bend to come to Huntington.

Therefore, it’s the Herd left out of the conversation in a season that a game versus a Power Five team could have majorly helped Marshall’s strength of schedule.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But for all the naysayers that disagree, I give you the numbers.

Louisville’s preseason strength of schedule was 68th while FIU’s was 90th and before you ask why is FIU relevant to this conversation I will explain. FIU played host to Louisville in Miami last week in a game that the Cardinals won 34-3. FIU also lost to Pitt 42-25 earlier this season.

So how does a FIU team that played FCS opponents in back-to-back weeks—one of which it lost to in Bethune-Cookman 14-12—have a strength of schedule that is 36 spots tougher than Marshall’s? FIU and Marshall play six common opponents during conference play with their non-commons not majorly swaying the final number. Scrambling to find a home game to replace the Louisville void, Marshall added FCS Rhode Island to eliminate having to play seven roads games rather than six.

With some simple addition, I have Marshall playing a non-conference schedule comprised of three FBS teams and one FCS team compared to FIU’s two and two respectively.

Maybe I am missing something but a game with Power Five team sure seems that it would have pushed the Herd forward several spots in the preseason poll not to mention how much a win over Louisville could have helped Marshall’s position in the national polls.

So why did Louisville pull the plug with Marshall? Why not FIU? The games were separated by only a week on the schedule but there is more than one reason why Louisville did not try to ditch FIU. 
Why would Louisville go to Miami to play in a stadium that may draw a crowd of 10,000 if FIU sells dollar holler seats for the game?

Two reasons, an easy win and recruitment.

FIU was a guaranteed win for Louisville which is a must under the new football playoff system. Power 5 teams have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing a Group of 5 team, making Louisville’s decision to drop Marshall simple.

Not to mention that Marshall defeated Louisville 17-13 in 2011 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in a game that saw Rakeem Cato and Teddy Bridgewater running the offense for their teams. Cato is a Heisman Trophy candidate of one of the most prolific offenses in the nation while Bridgewater is taking snaps for the Minnesota Vikings.

Another contributing factor to keep FIU, recruitment. Of the 91 players on Louisville’s roster, 28 (15.4 percent) hail from the state of Florida, with 14 from Miami.

No one player on the Cardinals roster hail from West Virginia.

Seems like a win-win for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for Marshall, it is a victim of the system controlled by the Power Five conferences. Suddenly an invitation for Marshall men’s basketball to play at the YUM! Center in November seems like a bad parting gift after picking the wrong box on a game show.

The price certainly was not right for the Herd no matter how you slice it.

Just remember as you kick back to watch some college football this weekend, the Joan should be jumping with the roar of the crowd and chants of “We Are…Marshall” echoing throughout Huntington.

So the next time someone challenges Marshall’s weak schedule, feel free to drop them a reminder that its Power Five opponent in Louisville decided to fly south for an easy win. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Marshall vs Akron Recap 9/20/14

Akron, OH—Many college football experts predicted Marshall’s run at an undefeated season would come to an end in its visit to Akron.

Those predictions were zipped up after the Thundering Herd’s 48-17 win over the Zips at InfoCision Stadium Saturday afternoon.

"For the most part, I was pleased," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "We challenged our kids about being physical and being a complete team and being the best football team on the field today like we were a week ago and I thought we did that."

Tommy Shuler hauls in a catch. Photo by Falecia Collier.
For the first time since the 1938 season, Marshall has scored 40-plus points in each of its first four games moving to 4-0 heading into the bye week.  After Oregon failed to surpass the 40-point plateau Saturday night, Marshall was left as the lone team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games.

Marshall scored at will over the first 15 minutes of play as it rushed out to a 17-0 lead over Akron. Rakeem Cato scampered in from 11 yards for the game’s first score as the Heisman Trophy candidate orchestrated a 9-play 80-yard drive that consumed over three minutes off the clock. It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Zips this season.

Akron would have another first on the ensuing drive after Arnold Blackmon forced Hakeem Lawrence to fumble allowing Antavis Rowe to make the recovery setting up Marshall’s second drive. Justin Haig would connect on a 24-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 after another long sustained drive by the Herd.

But it was the Herd’s defense that set the tone during the opening quarter of the game. Akron’s offense failed to move the ball after Pohl threw three consecutive incomplete passes. Forced to punt, Akron sent a short punt to Marshall that was downed at midfield and the Herd would need only three plays to find pay dirt once again.

Cato hit tight end Eric Frohnapfel on a 25-yard crossing route on first down and connected with Angelo Jean-Louis two plays later for a 24-yard touchdown. Cato ran his consecutive games throwing a touchdown streak to 36 on the scoring strike and stands only two games shy of tying current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who set the record while playing at Wisconsin and N.C. State.

Devon Johnson stiff-arms the defense. Photo by Falecia Collier
Devon Johnson kicked off the second quarter for the Herd as the big man rumbled through three would-be tacklers for a 22-yard touchdown making it 24-0. Johnson said he simply followed Coach Barclay’s instructions of how to attack the defense.

“I knew I was going to have to bounce it outside because of the where the lineman was at,” said Johnson of his scoring run. “I knew if I cleared the Sam linebacker I was going to be one-on-one with the safety and that’s something Coach Barclay stresses is to win your one-on-one battles and that’s what I did.”

Akron compiled a 10-play drive that stalled out at the Marshall 7-yard line as the Zips settled for a 24-yard field goal that trimmed the Herd’s lead to 24-3.

Akron threatened to swing the momentum after Cato was picked off in the first pass of the ensuing drive but AJ Leggett would calm the surge as he picked off Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Although many say Leggett’s pick was a statement play in the game, he said he just played as he’s been coached.

“I was just trying to make a play on the ball,” Leggett said of his interception. “I saw the quarterback’s eyes and the receiver break so I just tried to make a play on the ball.”

Marshall took full advantage of the Akron turnover.

In a system nicknamed “Thunder and Lightning”—referring to Marshall’s running back stable of Johnson (Thunder) along with Remi Watson and Steward Butler (Lightning)—it was a shot of lightning from Watson that provided the longest rushing attempt since Daruis Marshall’s 80-yard game-winning touchdown run in 2009 home win over Bowling Green. The junior exploded into the Zips defense like a flash of lightning for an 80-yard touchdown run putting the Herd up 31-3.

“It’s just a feeling through the course of the game that you get in your body,” Watson said of his 80-yard touchdown run. “I was like just run, run just run and there was no way I was letting anybody chase me down.”

Watson, who turned in his first 100-yard rushing game of his career after finishing with 124 yards on only nine carries, picked up the slack from a missing Butler who was held out after a poor week of preparation.

"I didn't like the way he practiced the last week," Holliday said of Butler. "If I don't like the way he practices, he ain't going to play. We've got plenty of backs. If they practice well, they play. If they don't, they sit over by me and watch. He sat over by me and watched today."

While Akron entered the game boasting a powerful defense through its first two games, it was Marshall that dominated the first half. Although Akron held the ball for nearly 16 minutes in the first half, they were 1-of-8 on third down conversions and were held to only 197 total yards of offense.
Marshall's defense has yet to allow a first half TD.
Photo by Falecia Collier

“Coach Heater is always on us about defense winning games," Leggett said. "I feel like as long as our offense keeps putting up 40 points a game there’s no reason we should lose.”

Looking to erase a sloppy close to the first half, Marshall marched 75 yards in seven plays that ended with on a Cato 13-yard rushing touchdown—his second of the game—putting the Herd up 38-3.

“We talked at halftime about coming out taking the ball right down the field,” Holliday said. “We did that and it was good to see.”

Akron failed once again to mount any form of an offensive threat and would turn the ball over on downs to Marshall after Pohl’s fourth down conversion attempt fell short of its intended target.

With the game well at hand, Holliday turned to his youthful reserves in what would be Cato’s final offensive series of the game. Ryan Yurachek made back-to-back catches during the 13-play 6-minute and 30-second drive that finished with another Haig field goal, pushing the lead to 41-3.

Marshall running back Brandon Byrd carried the work load in the final quarter and added his contribution to the effort after breaking a 19-yard run that resulted in his first career touchdown as a member of the Herd.

With all the positive’s Marshall has produced through its first four games, there is one area Holliday said must be addressed immediately, penalties. The Herd was flagged 20 times for 188 yards tying a program record for most penalties in a contest.

“I’m anxious to see the tape,” Holliday said regarding his team being flagged 20 times. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that had 20 penalties. If we are coached that bad that’s on me and I’ve got to get that corrected.”

The Herd will have two full weeks to prepare for its first opponent in conference play as the team has its first bye week of the season. Marshall travels to Old Dominion October 4th for its first game in CUSA play. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marshall vs Ohio "Battle For the Bell" Preview

Heading into Saturday’s match-up between Marshall and Ohio at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, senior quarterback Rakeem Cato is trying to add one thing that has eluded him the past three seasons to his already impressive resume—a win over the Bobcats.

Headed into the 14th meeting of the “Battle for the Bell”, Ohio is in search of its fourth consecutive win over Marshall in a series the Herd leads 9-4.

“There's no doubt that it has been a big rivalry for a lot of years and they've won the last three,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “Our kids understand that. Ohio has been the better team the last three years, as far as playing together as a team. We have to make sure, for us to have a chance on Saturday, that we are one heck of a football team in all three phases of the game. If we can do that, then we have a shot.”

Ohio head coach Frank Solich agreed with Holliday’s take on the history and rivalry of the game.

"They've been hard fought ball games, they've been games that, early on, we weren't able to find a way to win,” explained Solich. “I think the last so many years we've been able to find a way to win the game, but they've all been tremendously competitive football games for the most part. It's a rarity to not have it be a competitive game and it doesn't seem to matter where that game is played. We've played them once in a bowl game, we've played them at their place and here at our place, and those games are generally all extremely competitive football games. I think that is also something that leads to the rivalry in terms of the players, fans, and everybody getting excited about it. That's what this game is all about.

Ohio dominated Marshall in 2011 with a 44-7 beat down in Athens in a game that Cato was picked four times.  Marshall’s defense was befuddled by Ohio’s offense led by Tyler Tettleton as the Bobcats held the ball for over 36 minutes while totally 559 yards of total offense and converting third down 8-of-16 tries. It was the worst lost to Ohio since a 48-8 drubbing in Athens during the 1968 season.

Ohio visited Huntington in 2012 and found itself trailing 14-0 after one quarter. However, Tettleton calming orchestrated another Bobcat comeback with two touchdown passes in the second quarter bookending an Ohio field goal and a 17-14 Bobcats lead at the half.

Both team’s defenses played under a “bend but don’t break” mentality in the second half waiting on the other to make a mistake.  Once again, a Herd turnover led to another Bobcat win as Jelani Woseley intercepted a fourth quarter Cato pass with 20 seconds remaining. Marshall lost 27-24.

However, 2013 was supposed to be the year the Herd finally got over the Bobcats hump but once again turnovers plagued Marshall and eventually led to a 34-31 defeat. Marshall committed four turnovers, three fumbles and a Cato interception, to zero from the Bobcats. Tettleton once again calmly marched his team up-and-down the field while converting 11-of-19 third down opportunities forcing the Herd’s defense into a repeat performance of 2011.

Although Solich is missing many of his offensive play makers, he likes what his defense has been able to do with Cato over the past three years.

"I think we've been pretty sound in what we've done against them,” Solich said. “I think this is probably their best team that we've faced and maybe in our [entire] time here, as far as this staff is concerned. So this will be maybe an even bigger challenge than what it's been. Obviously, we can't let them have the big plays and if you can force them into not getting explosive plays and having to stay on the field, and earn everything they get, then you're doing all that you can. I think our football team is capable of being that kind of a defensive football team but we've shown signs of, every now and then, giving up those explosive plays. You just can't let that happen with any kind of consistency and think you'll play well enough to win the game."

Coming into the “Battle for the Bell’s” final visit to Huntington until 2019, there is one thing that Marshall must do in order to beat Ohio, take care of the football.

Over the past three contests Marshall has committed 13 turnovers to Ohio’s three. Entering Saturday’s contest both teams have fumbled six times with Marshall recovering two to Ohio’s one. Holliday said Marshall has to take care of the ball to have a chance to beat Ohio.

“You constantly work in your individual drills,” explained Holliday. “Ohio had the same issue against Kent State. They turned the ball over four times and came back the following week and only turned it over, I believe, once against Kentucky. They got it fixed and we have to get it fixed. You will not beat a good football team if you give them the football that many times.”

While Marshall returns several players from last season, only three have ever beaten Ohio—James Rouse, Darryl Roberts and Demetrius Evans. On the other hand for Ohio, while it returns a veteran defensive staff led by linebacker Jovan Johnson, there is no Tettleton, no Beau Blankenship and no Donte Foster. This year Ohio will be led by quarterback Darius Vick, or perhaps quarterback J.D. Sprague or running back Daz Patterson. While there remains uncertainty of what to expect from the Bobcats, Holliday said at least game film exists from this season.

“The positive to that is we now have film,” Holliday said. “We have two games with a sample of both of them. Vick played the Kent State game and Sprague played the majority of the Kentucky game. So we at least have them both on film. The one thing that hasn't happened is Ohio doesn't look like they have changed their philosophy a lot with either quarterback. They both have similar skill sets. They both can run and make all of their throws. I don't think they're going to change what they do. They will try and do what each of them does best. But we at least have a sample of both of them, which is something we haven't had this season.”

Ohio’s offense has been like a science experiment gone bad. Through two games this season, the Bobcats totaled 660 yards of offense. Marshall had 724 yards last week with 432 yards coming on the ground.

Vick led the Bobcats to a 17-14 win over Kent State in week one, but was benched in the first half last week at Kentucky after all six of his passes missed the intended mark. Solich turned to Sprague who went 13-for-25 in his Bobcat debut but could not will his team to a comeback as the Bobcats fell 20-3 to UK.

Thus far for Ohio, it has only scored two touchdowns—both coming against Kent State—and is averaging 330 yards of offense.

Marshall must contain the dual-threat of Vick while trying to stop Ohio’s double-stack receiver set that has haunted the Herd over the years. Luckily the Herd saw a similar look last week against Rhode Island and cornerback Corey Tindal did a great job of taking away the quick slants, a play that Tettleton used to lull the Herd to sleep with before finding a target deep down field.

So much like Marshall’s first two games this season, it’s another week of uncertainty for the Herd.

Marshall cannot have another performance like Miami this season where the defense cannot get off the field on third down. Luckily for the Herd, the Bobcats have struggled mightily (11-of-28) on third down this season. If Marshall can force Ohio into third-and-long situations, this number could rise significantly. More importantly for the Herd, it must get off the field on third down.

As for Marshall, if it can duplicate the running attack that UK pulled off last weekend in Lexington, Ohio will have to load the box thus leaving single coverage on the Herd’s receivers. UK carried the ball 52 times, gaining 232 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Much like the Herd, UK has a dual-look rushing attack that resembles a Marshall Devon Johnson, Remi Watson and Stew Butler combination that results in a one-two punch from the backfield, but Holliday said the Herd must keep the attack simple and take what is given.

“We have to continue to take what that defense gives us, whether it be the run or the pass,” Holliday said. “We just need to continue not trying to put round pegs in square holes and execute our offense. If they give us the run, we'll run it and if they give us the opportunity to throw it, we'll throw it. We'll take what they give us, do our job, and execute our offense.”

In a contest that pits two teams that always brings out the best and worst in one another, this year the Herd must find a way to bring out the worst in the Bobcats. Marshall needs to start like it did in 2012 when it had a two touchdown lead after the first quarter but must finish of the Bobcats if given the chance.

“With these guys (Ohio), you better play a complete game and take care of the football,” said Holliday. “You better come ready to play or they'll beat you. That's just the kind of team they are.”

Should this game be decided by who wins the turnover battle, Marshall must take care of the ball to pick up its 10th win in the “Battle for the Bell.” However, should the Herd fail to take care of business early, it could be another chapter of the “Ohio beats Marshall again” book, only with a different writer than the past three seasons.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Marshall Football vs Miami Column

It’s a win. That was exactly the thought that Marshall Football head coach Doc Holliday had as his team boarded the bus to head back to Huntington after knocking off Miami 42-27 in Oxford.

Was the win pretty? Not a chance.

Will the Herd gain any style points for its 42 points scored? Not in this lifetime.

Will this game help the Herd later down the road? Very possible.

I have heard so many complaints and remarks about how Marshall should have destroyed this team but failed to do so. After all, Marshall led 28-3 at the half only to be outscored 24-14 in the second half.

But for everyone who is ready to jump ship on the Herd’s march towards perfection I offer you this. The last time Marshall won a season opener on the road was at Clemson in 1999, 13-10.

That was the same year the Herd finished 13-0, won the MAC Championship and defeated BYU 21-3 in the Motor City Bowl.

Do not take me wrong, I am not saying Miami (Ohio) is Clemson in any case, but does anyone remember what the Tigers finished that season?

Try 6-6 with the sixth loss coming to Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl.

What if Miami finishes 6-6 and makes a bowl? Then Saturday’s game has a whole new meaning.

After watching the potential the RedHawks have this season, I think it is a possibility.

Andrew Hendrix makes Miami a totally different team than that of the one that was beat down 52-14 in Huntington last season. Yes many of the skill players returned that played last year, but that was with a totally different quarterback and coaching staff.

Hendrix makes this team a competitor, and now. Add his fellow Notre Dame transfer tight end Alex Welch to the mix of receivers Rokeem Williams, David Frazier and Dawan Scott and Hendrix has some real threats to sling the ball to.

Not to mention Hendrix is dangerous with his running ability as well.

Marshall should have finished off the RedHawks when it had possession to open the third quarter. But a costly fumble by Deandre Reaves gave Miami something that it so desperately needed, hope.

If Marshall does not fumble on that drive and punches another score into the endzone, game over! The only fans left in Yager Stadium would have been those wearing green and white. But not only did the RedHawks get hope, so did the fans. Even if it was only a glimmer, there was something to fight for and Miami did just that.

But Marshall did one thing to combat the Miami surge, it never panicked. Not once did the body language of any of the Herd players show signs of trouble or concern. Instead, it was business as usual. In other words, Marshall stared not only adversity, but road adversity dead in the eye, and the Herd never blinked.

Week one is always the toughest week of the season. So many variables and intangibles play into the outcome of the opening week.

But as Holliday said, “the most improvement you’ll make in a game is from game one to game two and we’ve got to make sure we do that.”

That seemed to be the case in 1999 after Marshall had its lowest scoring game of the season in game one.

How did the Herd fare after that? It outscored its opponents 450-127 over the next 12 games. I think one could call that an improvement.

Marshall’s second game of the 1999 season should be much like the game the Herd plays this Saturday as its home opener, a beat down. Marshall rolled Liberty 63-3 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on its way to a perfect season.

The Herd should do much of the same Saturday against Rhode Island.

At this point in the season, who really cares if the win has the sex appeal the voters want to see or is ugly at best. The most important thing is winning. Half the teams that played this past weekend lost. Marshall is not in that category.

Marshall won and its hopes of an undefeated season are still alive. Priority number one earns a check.

So before one throws the season down the toilet just because the team played below expectations in week one stop and ask is there a difference in a 45-3 win compared to 42-27?

Only if Marshall should lose a game this season and entering week two, the Herd is 1-0.

Merely half the teams in college football can say that, and Marshall is in that half.