HUNTINGTON – Under the Doc’s early week prescription – “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,’ or at least a paraphrase of that — Marshall’s football coach had no worries in his Thundering Herd.
Western Carolina’s visit to Edwards Stadium for Marshall’s 2012 home opener wasn’t to be UT-Martin over Memphis, Youngstown State over Pitt, Texas State over Houston — or, even earlier Saturday, Sacramento State over Colorado or North Dakota State over Colorado State.
In the FBS versus FCS mismatch-up which had been a two-decades Southern Conference series first owned by the Catamounts and then the Herd, Coach Doc Holliday’s team rolled to a 52-24 victory before a walkup-swelled crowd of 25,317 — including about 2,300 fans who bought tickets at the gate when the skies cleared over Huntington around 5 p.m.
And Western Carolina, which got a $350,000 payday, also has to visit defending national champion Alabama (for only $500,000 and expenses) in November … Yikes!
“The important thing our coaches and players have to understand is that we have to prepare to play every week or you're going to get beat,” Holliday said at his Tuesday presser, referring to those FBS-busters.
“Today's age of college football, it doesn't matter who you play, you better be prepared and play your tail off or you're going to get beat.
“It's amazing, in college football every Sunday you'll pick up the paper and see a team get beat that shouldn't have been beaten. We just have to make sure we're prepared.”
In Holliday’s first Herd game against an FCS team, it was one of those deals where from the first series, it was only close on the scoreboard — 3-0 Herd at the end of the first quarter.
Otherwise, a week after Marshall ran a nation’s-leading 101 plays and 545 yards in a loss at West Virginia, it reeled off only 94 snaps for 615 yards … the Herd’s first back-to-back 500 yards-plus games since 2003 in Mid-American Conference dates at Western Michigan and against Akron.
“We feel like if we get over 80 plays … that’s our goal,” Holliday said. “Over 90 — that’s tremendous.”
Herd sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato had 280 yards and three touchdowns passing by the break, and finished 32-of-42 for 377 yards, but … “I think I played better last week (at WVU),” he said.
“I had trouble settling down early, made some mistakes.”
But the Herd had no turnovers, which impressed Holliday more than anything.
What was mostly on display, as the Herd (1-1) prepped for the annual “Battle for the Bell” rivalry visit next week by Ohio U. (2-0 after beating New Mexico State, 51-24, in front of 25,000-plus in Athens Saturday) was Marshall’s team speed, versatility and increased depth.
Much of the weeklong, pre-game patter was about Herd-turned-Catamount QB Eddie Sullivan and how he would fare in his return to his former home stadium.
While Sullivan accounted for all three Western Carolina touchdowns, including 1-yard and 8-yard runs and a 5-yard pass to Jacoby Mitchell, what the game turned out to be was more about the kind of variety in the Herd you’d get from the old Ed Sullivan TV show.
Want an example? By the end of the first quarter, the Herd already had used 51 players.
Twelve players caught passes — senior wideouts Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson combined for 15 catches for 179 yards, while five running backs got carries.
Defensively for Marshall, while WCU offered nowhere near the challenge WVU did a week earlier, there was a noticeable change in aggressiveness.
The biggest move was erstwhile safety and nickel back D.J. Hunter getting the start at strong side linebacker, replacing Raheem Waiters.
Seems to be a trend ... since last season’s bowl practices, the Herd has moved Devin Arrington, Waiters, Evan McKelvey and now Hunter — even at only 189 pounds — from safety to the second line of defense.
“We’re trying to get our best players on the field,” Holliday said. “If he’s one of our best 11, he needs to play.”
Hunter, a one-time Tennessee recruit who had personal issues at home in Ohio and then injury at Marshall, played his first game since the fall of 2008 last week in Morgantown.
He would have been the strong safety starter until Boston College transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha arrived (and they combined for 15 tackles as the last line of defense).
At the same time, the offense gained a fullback — or, more correctly, a H-back — when backup strong side linebacker Devon Johnson switched sides of the ball.
He played as a blocking back, in a role occupied by Zach Wellman (he quit the team after the WVU game a week ago) m preseason and then backup middle linebacker Cortez Carter in the WVU loss.
Youth, but kids with a good dose of experience because of “have to” played, in previous Holliday seasons.
After WVU and WCU, Marshall heads into a pivotal week of its season — yes, this early.
It’s not a season-defining game with Ohio — Conference USA play (and the league is weaker than it has been, to be sure, although the Herd’s opponent in two weeks, Rice, got a nice win at Kansas Saturday) will do that.
But battling the Bobcats will be about more than a rivalry and an old Bell.
It figures to be a real dinger.