HUNTINGTON - After finishing on the wrong end of a 69-34 rout at West Virginia, Doc Holliday shouldn't have to motivate his Marshall troops about playing hard this week.
But the third-year coach does have more ammunition as his team prepares for the home opener at Western Carolina. He has three scores from last week to help him.
Youngstown State 31, Pittsburgh 17.
Texas State 30, Houston 13.
Tennessee-Martin 20, Memphis 17.
And it really doesn't matter to Holliday that Western is a struggling FCS school, trying to escape the bottom of the Southern Conference barrel under a first-year coach. It doesn't matter that Western is riding a 16-game losing streak to schools not named Mars Hill.
He carried that message into his Tuesday press conference, where he spent extra effort to turn the page from the WVU debacle.
Last weekend, Youngstown State went into Heinz Field and never trailed against Pitt. Houston's loss to reclassifying Texas State was followed by shakeup of the new coaching staff, with the offensive coordinator resigning. Memphis showed that yes, a bad situation can always get worse.
Which is what Holliday is trying to prevent at Marshall.
"[In] today's age of college football, it doesn't matter who you play, you better be prepared and play your tail off or you're going to get beat," Holliday said. "It's amazing in college football every Sunday you'll pick up the paper and see a team get beat that shouldn't have been beaten."
Western is coming off a 42-14 win over, you guessed it, Division II Mars Hill. It was Mark Speir's debut as a head coach, and could have been the Catamount debut of former Marshall quarterback Eddie Sullivan, who was suspended for violating team rules.
In his stead, Troy Mitchell completed 20 of 29 passes for 149 yards and ran for 38 yards with two touchdowns. He was named the Southern Conference's freshman of the week.
That performance leaves Sullivan, a sophomore, to compete for the job all over again. A decision might not be reached until Friday.
"We're going to go let them see who is the most productive this week in practice," Speir said. "We feel this competition is only going to make them better. In this offense, with as much as we do with our quarterback, you've got to have two really good quarterbacks.
Holliday said his defense certainly knows Sullivan's strengths and weaknesses, but will have to prepare for both quarterbacks - and to generally improve in tackling and all other areas. It's likely that the Catamounts have not shown their entire offensive repertoire.
"They'll run the read option, they like to get the [ball] out on the perimeter," Holliday said. "They'll run their quarterback and they do a good job of it."
Receiver Aaron Dobson is working hard to get back into the lineup after landing hard on his hip at the end of his 40-yard reception at WVU. He vows to be well enough to start Saturday.
"I'm playing, there's no doubt," said the Dunbar native. "It's just tight, and there's a lot of blood flow; we're just trying to break all of that up. Stretching and icing it down, that's basically all I can do right now."
Holliday said his team is healthy, except perhaps for a "wait and see" situation with right tackle Garrett Scott. Scott hurt his lower leg at WVU, but the injury was not nearly as bad as coaches had feared, and he could come back Saturday.
The defensive front should be a bit more intact. At tackle, Marques Aiken will be ready for a full game after missing the first half at WVU, and Steve Dillon should be ready for more snaps. Holliday said those situations forced the Herd to use more three-man fronts than it typically wants.
"Dillon's issue is he hadn't practiced for a couple of weeks. Same thing with a couple of those guys," Holliday said.
Speaking of the defensive line, James Rouse could be back practicing in 2-3 weeks. Holliday said the same goes for cornerback Darryl Roberts. He did not know about linebacker Billy Mitchell's prospects.
While the Herd offense was credited for 101 plays from scrimmage, Holliday pointed out it actually snapped 105 times, with four plays negated by penalties.
That high number, well above the 2011 average, helped Cato spread passes out 13 different receivers. In all, 18 different players received credit for a carry and/or reception.
"We were snapping the ball with 19 or 20 seconds left on the play clock," Holliday said. "The other thing is being able to move the chains. If you're able to sustain drives and getting first downs allows you to keep snapping the ball. A combination of the speed of the offense and creating first downs are all positive things that have to continue."
Holliday felt his team won last weekend on special teams. That didn't exactly swing the result of that game, but the Herd did win a few games last year on kicking downs.
Tyler Williams averaged 51.3 yards on four punts, with a net of 47.8. The Herd blocked a Corey Smith punt to set up a touchdown, and kept WVU kickoff returns to 18.4 yards per attempt. Then again, WVU's average starting point after kickoffs was its 32-yard line, something that needs improvement.
That average was affected by Justin Haig's accidental onside kick after Marshall's last TD. He said he was told to execute a squib kick, but miss-hit the ball.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato did not win Conference USA's offensive player of the week award despite his 413 yards on 38-of-54 passing, with two touchdowns. That went to Texas-El Paso running back Nathan Jeffery, who ran for 177 yards against fourth-ranked Oklahoma. Jeffery scored the Miners' only touchdown in a 24-7 loss, blocking a punt and returning it 24 yards.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com
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