HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall’s .830 winning percentage in bowl games leads the NCAA, so coach Doc Holliday is following a tried-and-true format entering the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State.
“It is all about the way you prepare,” he said. “Since I have gotten here we have done a good job as far as preparation is concerned. Our kids understand that the only bowls that are good bowls are the ones that you win, and that’s just the way it is.”
An assistant at West Virginia, N.C. State and Florida over three decades, Holliday is 4-0 in bowls with the Herd.
“I have been to 26 of them and the only ones I remember we won,” he said. “They need to understand they have their whole life to enjoy themselves, but they have one chance to make a memory that will last a lifetime.”
Marshall (7-5) at Colorado State (7-5) in the New Mexico Bowl
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m., Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico (ESPN)
When the Herd has the ball: Colorado State’s strong defense which is led by linebacker Josh Watson, who has 103 tackles along with two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Linebacker Evan Colorito has been a terror for opposing teams, leading the Rams with 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Colorado State’s defense has forced 16 turnovers this season, 10 of those being interceptions.
Quarterback Chase Litton, who has struggled with turnovers in the latter part of the season, will need to be precise.
“We can’t leave points on the field, if we get in the red zone, we have to make a field goal or get in the endzone,” said offensive lineman Alex Molette. “We can’t slip up and have mental mistakes because their quarterback and offense is so good.”
Those mental mistakes were highlighted in the season finale by turnovers and a botched extra point attempt at the end of the game.
“I think Colorado State’s whole team top to bottom is a lot better than their 7-5 record shows, and I would like to say the same about us,” said tight end Ryan Yuracheck. “They have a veteran defense, so there is no doubt we are going to have to play well.”
Running back Tyler King, hampered with injuries in the teams last two games, will look to return to early-season form.
Holliday is hopeful that receivers Marcel Williams and Tyre Brady can make their return in time for the bowl game.
“They have all practiced all week and I expect them to play,” Holliday said.
When the Rams have the ball: Colorado State’s offense is led by senior quarterback Nick Stevens, who has held the starting position since his sophomore year.
Stevens has thrown for a career-high with 3,484 yards, completed 63 percent and thrown for 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Running back Dalyn Dawkins is a much bigger threat on the ground, rushing for 1,349-yards this year while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Dawkins has found his way into the endzone eight times while averaging 18 carries per game.
“There is probably going to be a lot of runs, I feel like everybody we play tries to run the ball at us,” said defensive lineman Ryan Bee.
Receiver Michael Gallup has 49 more receptions than any other player in his position group. He took advantage of his many targets this season amassing 1,350 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
“He has the skill set and between the ball skills, he is tough with speed, great route running, and tremendous strength,” said Holliday. “When guys are great players they step up and make big plays in big games, with the game on the line that is who they are going to go to.”
Defensive end Blake Keller, playing in his last game for the Herd, said the big numbers put up by Rams offense is a compliment to their offensive line.
“Their offensive line is one of the best we have faced all year. We are going to have work on getting past them and making some plays,” Keller said. “They give their quarterback time to get those great receivers the ball.”
Both Marshall and Colorado State finished the season ranked second in the nation in sacks allowed, allowing the quarterback to be taken down just eight times.
Marshall’s defense will be happy to have downhill safety Malik Gant back with CSU averaging 40 rush attempts a game. The redshirt sophomore led the team with 38 solo tackles in the regular season.
Wildcard: This will be the first meeting between these programs. Both teams started 6-2 but finished with 7-5.
Line: Colorado State favored by 5.5
—By Troy Alexander