HUNTINGTON — As the second month of the 2020 season draws near, there is a bit of irony for Marshall’s football team.
Marshall was one of the nation’s first in many areas in the COVID-19 football era.
The team was one of the first nationally to return players for voluntary workouts as guys came back on May 20 to get a full quarantine period prior to the start of those workouts on June 1.
Then, the Thundering Herd was one of the first teams to move into the mandatory summer sessions and even into preseason practice due to a scheduled contest at East Carolina on Aug. 29.
Even though that game was delayed and subsequently removed from the 2020 slate, Marshall was still one of the first in college football to play a game when it defeated Eastern Kentucky 59-0 in a Sept. 5 contest on national television.
Yet, several weeks later, the Herd has just two games under its belt and is in the midst of a three-week layoff since its 17-7 win over then-No. 23 Appalachian State.
To put it in perspective, when Marshall returns to the field on Oct. 10 at Western Kentucky, the Herd will have more off weeks under its belt (three) than actual games (two).
Marshall coach Doc Holliday has tried to keep the practice schedule consistent during the extended layoff, which gave the team last week and the early portion of this week a chance to work on its own play before diving into scout work of Western Kentucky.
As Marshall defensive lineman Kobe Cumberlander pointed out, it took the Herd back to a time where they played the waiting game in anticipation of the start of the season.
Cumberlander and his teammates are attempting to make the most of it, however.
“This is basically like camp all over again,” Cumberlander said. “Why not get the extra time to prepare? I can’t really complain at all for this.”
One of the staples of preseason camp is that Marshall’s team goes with the top units against each other, meaning those sides get a semblance of a game-type look.
That is especially true considering Marshall leads the country in scoring defense and is No. 7 in total defense while the offense is No. 12 in total offense (No. 8 in rushing offense).
“It’s only to make each other better — having the ones against the ones, the starting defense vs. the starting offense — to basically get that game speed going,” Cumberlander said.
As Marshall tight end Garet Morrell pointed out, those practices take on a game-type feel because every mistake is magnified when going against the other side, which makes this time valuable.
“We’re going to focus on the little things right now and little details whenever it comes to technique,” Marshall senior tight end Garet Morrell said. “Next week and the end of this week, we’re going to focus more on game-plan scenarios.”
Technique and little details are magnified by the coaching staff this week for two reasons.
No. 1, next week’s contest starts the Conference USA portion of the schedule in which every game is magnified in the chase for a championship.
No. 2, as the odd schedule would have it, the Herd is scheduled to play six league games in seven weeks, starting with the WKU game.
That could increase to seven games in seven weeks if Conference USA adds a seventh league game on the Nov. 7 open date due to Marshall losing the Rice game for this weekend.
A potential scenario could see Marshall host UAB on that date because the two teams have like off weeks and they each lost a game due to Rice’s postponements until late October.
In the midst of a three-week layoff, that late-season scenario may be difficult to focus on, but Cumberlander said it is a true test for the Herd’s mentality on the bigger picture, which is a Conference USA title.
“No days off,” Cumberlander said. “We’ve got to keep doing what we do because this is what’s helping us win games.”