FRISCO, Texas — Marshall was picked to win the Conference USA East Division and play for the league championship, so it is safe to say there are some lofty expectations being placed on the Thundering Herd football team in 2019.
There is a target on Marshall’s back, no doubt about it, but that is exactly how MU coach Doc Holliday likes it.
“Expectations at Marshall are always extremely high, and that’s a good thing,” Holliday said Thursday at Conference USA Media Days. “I’ve always said I don’t want to be a coach anywhere expectations aren’t high. Our staff and our players will embrace those expectations and also understand there is a responsibility that goes with them — that is to go prepare every day. It doesn’t matter where you are now, it matters where you are the first week of December, and for us to have the opportunity and the chance to accomplish these goals we have to go to work every day.”
For Holliday, meeting those expectations in 2019 starts with the Herd’s defense. Marshall was one of the top defensive teams in C-USA in 2018, allowing 21.8 points per game (third in the league), 338.7 yards per game (fourth in the league) and just 104.2 rushing yards per game (second in the league behind Southern Miss). For the Thundering Herd to get where it wants to be and where the league’s media predicted it will be in December — in the league title game — Holliday said the MU defense needs to be better than it was a year ago.
“We’ve got to get better,” Holliday said. “To do what people think we can do and to do what we want to do as a team, it starts with playing great defense. Any championship I’ve ever been a part of, we’ve always had great defense.”
The offense will shoulder a lot of the burden of those high expectations as well. Marshall brings back sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green after a standout freshman season that saw him win the job and lead the Thundering Herd to a Gasparilla Bowl win against South Florida.
Marshall has had its fair share of stars at the quarterback position over the years — guys like Michael Payton, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich — but it is near impossible to see what Green did as a freshman and not draw comparisons to Rakeem Cato, another MU quarterback who burst on the scene as a freshman.
Holliday said it’s a fair comparison, and if Green can go on to a career like Cato’s it will bode very well for MU’s future on the football field.
“We’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of great quarterbacks everywhere I’ve been, and I think Isaiah and Cato are a good comparison as freshmen,” Holliday said. “I think [Green] might be a little ahead of Cato at this point as a freshman, but that being said I hope he does what Cato did the last three years. I think Cato won 33 games the last three years of his career, so hopefully Isaiah can do that. The quarterback position is such an intangible position — it’s about competitiveness and that type of thing. He has all those things.”
Marshall also brings back a pair of talented running backs in Tyler King and Brenden Knox, as well as a deep and experienced offensive line to open holes for the ball carriers and protect the quarterback.
“You’ve got to take what the defense gives you, and if you have the ability to do both [run and pass] you’re in good shape,” Holliday said. “We have to be able to run the football, and I think our offensive line can be as good an offensive line as we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve had some good ones, but they’re all back from a year ago. They’ve got to live up to their expectations, and I like our running backs.”
Senior center Levi Brown said it’s nice to see that people outside the program think the team will be good in 2019, but warned that until the games are actually being played it’s all just talk. Brown said Marshall wants to be more than just a team people talked about in the preseason.
“It looks really, really good to open Twitter one day and see Conference USA picked us to win the east,” Brown said. “It’s a confidence booster for sure, but I compare it to being put on a Watch List. I’ve been put on the Rimington Watch list for three years now, and I haven’t won it yet. It’s something that looks really good on paper — fans love to see it, coaches love to see it, players love to see it — but it’s just something that looks really good on paper and won’t mean a thing until December 6th or 7th, whenever the conference championship game is this year.”