— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Ahead of Saturday’s matchup at Old Dominion, Marshall is trying to stay the course while also displaying a sense of urgency.
The Herd’s failure to record a key Conference USA East Division home win last Friday against Middle Tennessee State has left them in a tough spot just about midway through the regular season.
The Herd fell to the Blue Raiders 34-24, giving MTSU a one-game lead and the tiebreaker in the C-USA East race.
Getting back to the winning ways won’t be easy this week as Marshall (3-2, 1-1) heads to Virginia’s Tidewater area to take on ODU (1-5, 0-3), who lost last week at Florida Atlantic, 52-33.
Game time Saturday is 3:30 p.m. at S.B. Ballard Stadium and the contest is being nationally-televised by Stadium.
Marshall senior offensive lineman Jordan Dowery says that despite the loss, no one is pushing the panic button.
“Everything is still wide open for everybody at this point,” Dowery said. “As competitive as our conference is, I don’t think anyone is getting through all the conference play undefeated.
“We just have to refocus and get back to work.”
Junior transfer quarterback Alex Thomson made his Marshall debut against the Blue Raiders. The former Wagner signal caller was forced into action after the Herd’s starting QB, Isaiah Green, suffered a leg injury a week earlier in a win at Western Kentucky.
Thomson was 17-for-34 through the air with 173 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception and lost a fumble.
Thomson knows that his performance must improve dramatically for Marshall to pick up a league win on the road this weekend.
“I’ve got to cut down on the turnovers and mistakes, just settle down and find a rhythm this week,” Thomson said. “As the week progresses, we’ll get better with the receivers and the O-line protections, so we’ll be just fine and move forward.”
Thomson faces a Monarchs defense that features Conference USA’s leader in sacks in senior defensive end Oshane Ximines.
While ODU has just one win, its offense has put up a lot of points and got the better of nationally-ranked Virginia Tech in a 49-35 upset in Norfolk for the team’s only win to this point.
Most recently, junior quarterback Blake LaRussa was 38-for-50 with 383 yards in the FAU loss. Talented running backs Jeremy Cox and Kesean Strong and veteran receivers Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart are skill players the Herd will have to contend with.
Thomson believes part of the recipe for containing the Monarchs’ attack comes down to what Marshall’s offense does.
“If we hold on to the ball and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll keep our defense off of the field or keep ODU from being in plus territory,” Thomson said. “If we establish the run and get the passing game going, we’ll be fine.”
Herd junior safety Malik Gant is hopeful that after giving up big yardage the past two weeks, including 420 against MTSU, the MU defense will challenge itself to slow down the Monarchs.
“We need to go harder than usual and execute on the 50-50 balls,” Gant said. “One loss doesn’t kick us out of anything and it makes us go harder and go out and focus more on what we have to do.”
Senior defensive lineman Ryan Bee knows it’s up to the Herd to dictate where they go from here.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves or let this define the rest of our season,” Bee said. “I feel like the conference is pretty wide open and every team is good, so it’s going to be a big game every single week.
“We’ve got to play four quarters of football, not let up, practice that much harder … whatever it takes.”