HUNTINGTON - Three days after his team pulled off a harrowing 24-23 road win against Florida Atlantic, Marshall coach Doc Holliday marveled at his team's effort, focus, confidence and general excitement.As the Thundering Herd turns its attention to an Oct. 24 bout at Middle Tennessee, the fourth-year coach expects more of the same the rest of the season."From a confidence standpoint, that's the first time since I've been here," Holliday said. "When that offense took that ball over on that first drive that we had to go down and score, the entire defense and everybody was out there when they went on the field. And when the defense was out there, the offense was up there on the field with the defense, trying to get it done."The third drive, the entire team was out there as the offense took the field. So leadership on the sidelines and in the locker room, the things we've been talking around here for a long time, looks like it's starting to take effect, and we won the game because of it."
Marshall took possession with 10:01 left, a 23-14 point deficit and the ball on its 12-yard line after the team's only special-teams mistake - Deandre Reaves' decision to run the kickoff out of the end zone. Three things had to happen, simple to define but tough to execute - score a touchdown and a field goal, with a defensive stop in between.Several other events happened, before and during those last 10 minutes, for Marshall to take the early lead in Conference USA's East Division.Devon "Moo Moo" Smith's long punt return, Amareto Curraj's four touchback kicks, 177 total yards in the fourth quarter, a summertime strength program that carried players through the fourth quarter, you name it."Any of those things go wrong and we're probably not sitting here joking around," Holliday said at his Tuesday press conference. "[Defensive tackle James] Rouse, I think on the 76th [defensive] play of the game, made a tremendous play. As a defensive lineman, you all don't notice that. Here's a kid that, the 76th play of the game, he takes that guard and about decapitates him to help us get that stop that last series."A lot of things had to happen for us to win that game and fortunately, they did."
And now, the emphasis swings to the MTSU game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on the 24th with the game airing on Fox Sports 1."They don't have to be smart to figure out they're right where we want to be," Holliday said. "We said all along that all our dreams and our goals are in place, and they are. . . . That being said, you don't go out and look five or six weeks down the road, we look ahead to a week from Thursday, because that's the only thing that matters at this point."BrieflyLeft tackle Gage Neimeyer was pulled for much of the FAU game, with Clint Van Horn inserted at right tackle and Garrett Scott moved on the left side. Holliday said that was simply a nod to FAU's small but athletic defensive front: "Garrett Scott's a little bit more athletic on that left side, blocked those guys a little bit better. Gage struggled at times, but Gage is a good player. He'll be fine."Two coaches stayed in south Florida to do some recruiting, then returned to begin game preparations today. Sunday's practice will be run like a regular Tuesday, Monday's like a Wednesday practice, and so on.Holliday said running back Steward Butler, who practiced last week but did not travel with the team, is fine and will play at MTSU. Holliday had said he was not happy with Butler, but did not elaborate.
The Herd appears to have come out of the FAU game healthy. Backup safety/special teams player Tiquan Lang is expected back next week, as well.The coach said tight end Gator Hoskins fought through migraine headaches to have those two big catches for 50 yards, including that 41-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5.Holliday also said running back Kevin Grooms, who appeared to run a bit tentatively at times last weekend, should get closer to 100 percent. "I think Grooms is at the point now where's he's got to continue to practice. . . . He needs to get hit, needs to practice."Holliday said the game was indeed important in his south Florida recruiting efforts, on a number of fronts. Earlier in the week, FAU coach Carl Pelini had expressed his goal of keeping players who would head northward to Marshall and other schools close to home in Boca Raton.
But Holliday observed, "We had a great contingent down there. That was the second-largest crowd they've ever had in that stadium [No. 3, an announced 19,760] and I think half of them were our people."So it was great to see all the kelly green out there, it was great to see the number of families and parents and recruits at the game. We couldn't talk to those kids at the game, but there were a lot who were there. Any time we go down there and get exposure, it's going to help us."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.