HUNTINGTON — When Marshall takes on Rice at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Houston, the Thundering Herd will face an Owls team seeking its first win of the 2019 season.
As Marshall head coach Doc Holliday explained, though, the Owls (0-8 overall, 0-4 Conference USA) are much better than the record that they show.
“Everybody looks at Rice’s record and thinks they aren’t a very good team, but just look at their scores,” Holliday said. “Everybody they’ve played, they take it right to the wire.”
Results lend credibility to Holliday’s claims. The Owls are indeed 0-8 on the year, but six losses have come by two scores or less and four losses have been by one score.
As Herd players watched film, they also noted the same thing that Holliday did: Rice is a very good football team.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Marshall linebacker Tavante Beckett said. “One play call away from winning a game or one stop away or making a play and they’d have a win. You can tell they come out every week fighting for that win. They’re winless, but they don’t play like it.”
Beckett praised the offensive line of the Owls, calling them “physical” and calling their technique “picture-perfect” on film.
Other pieces are present, such as running back Aston Walter, who has rushed for 504 yards and five touchdowns, and receivers Austin Trammell and Brad Rozner, who have 524 yards receiving each.
Still, the Owls haven’t been able to put it all together offensively, scoring just 15.9 points per game with an offensive that averages just 280 total yards --both of which are in the bottom 10 nationally.
While the offense has struggled, the defense has been strong, ranking in the upper half of FBS in total defense.
The Owls have 45 tackles for loss, with most coming against the run, led by a strong defensive line and the emergence of linebacker Blaze Alldredge, who has 14 TFLs.
“They’re a really sound defense,” Marshall center Levi Brown said. “No one is going to be in the wrong gap.”
The biggest issue for the Owls has been that the lack of offense has led to the defense seeing the field for big chunks, especially in the second half.
Mistakes in key situations have hurt the Owls in those close losses.
Last week against Southern Miss, Rice used an interception to set up a potential game-tying scenario while trailing 13-6, but a tipped pass in the end zone resulted in an interception that ended the opportunity. Southern Miss went on to a 20-6 victory.
That has been a microcosm of the 2019 season for the Owls.
In addition to last week’s loss, Rice’s other close losses include Army (14-7), Baylor (21-13), Louisiana Tech (23-20, OT), UAB (35-20) and UTSA (31-27).
“They’ve obviously put together some games,” Brown said. “They took Baylor to the wire, they took [Louisiana] Tech to the wire. They’ve had games where they played the whole four quarters and made teams have to beat them.”
Holliday said the Owls have been right there in each game and are looking to get over that hump.
“There’s no quit in that bunch,” Holliday said. “Just turn the film on. They have good players.”
The charge for Holliday’s team is to make sure that Rice doesn’t get over that hump this weekend as part of Rice’s homecoming festivities.
Especially with his team coming off an emotional homecoming win, Holliday said the Herd (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) better be ready for a dogfight in Houston.
“They will fight until the end, so it’s going to be a fight for us as well,” Holliday said.