HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— Marshall has already avenged two losses from 2013 and is looking for payback for last season’s most disappointing loss.
41-24 is tattooed on the minds of the Thundering Herd players. That was the final score of the Conference USA Championship game in which Rice embarrassed the Herd.
“They took something from us last year that we felt like we worked hard for,” said Devon Johnson, who has rushed for 1,203 yards this season. “It’s going to be a different mindset and we have to go out and work hard this week because they’ve got very talented players and are very well coached.”
Rice drove 82 yards on the opening possession of the game last year to jump out to a 7-0 lead. Then the Herd went three-and-out and two plays later Owls’ quarterback Taylor McHargue connected with Jordan Taylor for a 75-yard touchdown to give Rice a 14-0 lead.
Marshall would never recover from the opening blows.
“We know what happened last year when we went to Rice,” said defensive lineman James Rouse. “They were the better team that day and everybody is just focused and motivated on what we need to be the better team this game.”
Coach Doc Holliday tried to downplay the idea that this week’s game with Rice is one that was highlighted on Marshall’s schedule, emphasizing that the team is not approaching this game any different than the previous nine.
“I don’t know about circling the game. I hope every game is circled,” said coach Doc Holliday. “You get to this point, for nine straight games I think our kids have done a great job of just preparing for that team and understanding that preparation is key. This game is no different. They are a tremendous team and we should prepare the same as we always prepare.”
The Herd will need to play to its potential this Saturday. Rice has won six in a row and will be the best team Marshall has faced to this point. The Owls’ defense has 32 sacks this season, with 27 of them coming during the current six-game win streak. Rice has also shut down teams on the ground, holding opposing to 3.0 yards per carry.
Remi Watson, who scored three touchdowns on the ground last week at Southern Miss, reiterated Holliday’s sentiment that each week is a big game, but acknowledged this game is more personal than the others.
“We do still have that sour taste in our mouth from last year so we’re going to make it a little personal and get after them early,” admitted Watson.
And he pointed out this game has one major difference from last season. This game is in Huntington.
“We don’t lose at home. It’s not even an option in our mind. We don’t lose at home. We’re making this game personal and now there’s even more emotion involved.”
Emotions will certainly be high on Saturday. The Herd will honor the 75 victims lost in the 1970 plane crash. It is a chance to impress the committee that has so far shunned Marshall in the top 25 rankings.
And 41-24 will be in the back of players’ minds as they take field.