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Hffapp

Marshall football head coach Charles Huff and players exit the field after the Herd’s loss to Appalachian State Thursday night in Boone, N.C.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s football team could be 4-0 right now.

Thundering Herd head coach Charles Huff knows that.

The players know that.

And fans of the team know that, too.

Yet the Herd comes out of non-conference play at 2-2 after struggling to finish a pair of losses to East Carolina and Appalachian State the last two weeks after being outscored 31-0 in the fourth quarter of those games.

Through those losses, Huff said there are tough lessons that his team must absorb as it turns the page and gets set for Conference USA play, which starts Saturday, Oct. 2 at Middle Tennessee.

The fourth-quarter struggles for Marshall have occurred in all three phases, which is a message being delivered this week.

The Herd offense has sputtered in the fourth quarter, not finding the same rhythm as it has in previous quarters, which has led to short possessions and increased pressure on the defense.

That defense has struggled to perform in the fourth quarter as well, giving up three touchdowns in the final eight minutes of the loss to East Carolina and also not being able to get off the field in key moments against App State with execution lacking as the Mountaineers came back from two scores down as well.

Special teams have also been a deflating aspect in the fourth quarter, with both Andrew Sanders and Shane Ciucci missing mid-range field goals that would’ve put the pressure on the opposition to secure touchdowns, which changes the mentality of drives.

Instead, those misses served as mental boosts to the opposition, giving momentum that the Herd ultimately was unable to turn around.

“We’ve learned a lot from these first four games,” Huff said. “We call it the foundation setting. We learned a lot from the first two, we learned a lot from the last two.”

The good news for Marshall is that whether the Herd came out of non-conference play 4-0 or 2-2, it didn’t impact the race for the Conference USA title, which is what starts next weekend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The conference slate is wiped clean, allowing Marshall to take those lessons from the loss and apply them to what equates to a new season.

In years past, Marshall has faltered while in position to win a league title, coming up short on several occasions.

The last two games have served as a reminder of what can happen when the little things aren’t taken care of.

As Huff has said from the start of his tenure, those little things are the difference between winning league titles and falling just short.

Learning the lessons from the past two disappointments are, essentially, going to be the difference in whether or not Huff is able to close the gap.

“We have to turn our focus into fixing the things that we learned and improving on other things we learned,” Huff said.

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch and covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.