HUNTINGTON — As Marshall gets set for its non-conference finale against Cincinnati Saturday, head coach Doc Holliday knows his team may be facing Bearcats, but it’s going to be a dogfight.
Marshall and Cincinnati each bring 2-1 records and high aspirations into the 5 p.m. matchup at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Each team is also coming off a bye week, which means both teams should be rested and at full strength.
Holliday feels this game will come down to execution and the little things.
“It will be a great challenge for us and we’re looking forward to having a great crowd here,” Holliday said. “It’s going to be another physical, tough game. Cincinnati will play that way, and so will we. We’re looking forward to it.”
Cincinnati finished in the top 25 last season after rattling off 11 wins for head coach Luke Fickell. That included a Military Bowl win over Virginia Tech after the Thundering Herd fell to the Hokies in early December.
The Bearcats lean on Fickell’s old-school nature, which is a run-first offense, physical defense and a team that uses possession to wear down its opponents. In wins over UCLA and Miami (Ohio), the Bearcats have been impressive in accomplishing those goals, limiting mistakes and forcing the opposition into miscues as they took advantage.
For Marshall, the key to the game is going to be stopping the run, which is easier said than done against the Bearcats, who went over 230 yards on the ground in a win over Miami (Ohio) two weeks ago.
Cincinnati uses running back Michael Warren and quarterback Desmond Ridder on the ground to establish continuity behind a tough and athletic offensive line. Once the ground game is established, the Bearcats like to go over the top for a home-run play in the passing game to either tight end Josiah Deguara or wide receiver Alec Pierce.
Marshall’s key is to not allow the ground game to get established, something that Fickell said the Herd has done well in recent years.
“They’ve done a great job,” Fickell said. “Obviously they play physical and they play tough.”
That creates a situation in which Marshall vs. Cincinnati is going to be a matchup of best on best, and both teams are going to see whose best is better. There’s not really anything flashy or fancy about what Cincinnati does. They just do it extremely well, Holliday said.
That means mistakes get magnified in each phase, which is what Holliday and his staff went to work on during the bye week.
“When you have two really good teams facing each other, it’s probably going to come down to one or two plays,” Holliday said. “The Ohio game did. You have to take care of the ball offensively. I’m sure this game is not going to be any different.”
Offensively, Marshall will look to establish its run game as well with Brenden Knox and Sheldon Evans, who led the charge against Ohio.
Marshall’s offensive front led a surge that produced 305 rushing yards in the win over the Bobcats. It also did not allow a sack, meaning the line is clicking at the right time heading into a tough matchup against a stout front seven for Cincinnati.
Much of Saturday’s battle will be determined along the line of scrimmage, with the team that establishes itself gaining the edge. That is why it was no surprise when three of four captains for Marshall this week came from the trenches — offensive lineman Cain Madden, defensive end Marquis Couch and defensive tackle Channing Hames, along with quarterback Isaiah Green.
This matchup has been highly anticipated since the 2019 schedule came out and a big crowd is expected to venture to Huntington for the contest.
On Saturday, nothing will come easy for either team as they look to claw out a final non-conference win before league play starts.