— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Like many around the state, the Marshall University football program is sending positive thoughts to the family and friends of Alex Miller. Miller, a Roane County High School football player, passed away over the weekend after he was taken to the hospital during the Raiders’ game against Clay County.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday tweeted condolences to the Miller family and Holliday continued to discuss Miller during his Tuesday news conference.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Alex Miller in Roane County,” Holliday said. “What a tragedy that was. As a coach who played in the state of West Virginia and coached here forever … again our thoughts and prayers are with them from myself, our family and the entire Herd family to everyone in Roane County.”
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Marshall is enjoying a much-needed bye week after starting the season with three hard-hitting contests that have taken a toll on the team. The last two weeks were tough in particular, with the Herd suffering a 14-7 loss at Boise State and bouncing back to beat Ohio, 33-31.
Holliday said two weeks of recuperation before the September 28 home game with Cincinnati will allow key members of his team to improve their health, especially sophomore starting running back Brenden Knox.
Knox was injured in the Ohio game, and senior wide receiver Obi Obialo, who has not played so far this season as he recovers from a preseason injury, gets extra time to heal.
“Those guys get an opportunity to double up treatments (because of the bye week),” Holliday said. “Most of those situations are just a couple of days deals so we have the chance to get a lot of those guys back.”
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Marshall is the beneficiary of having two bye weeks this season. The next off week for the Herd comes the weekend of November 9 following a stretch of five straight Conference USA games in October, as well as one November 2.
The off weeks aren’t just used for rest as coaches are recruiting and players are preparing for upcoming games, doing what Holliday calls “self-scouting.”
“In a self-scout, you’re breaking down your own tendencies,” Holliday said. “What are we doing on third downs? What are we doing to our opponents? In special teams, where are we giving away things with our alignments and that type of thing. We go over all three of our games and find out what tendencies we have and what we need to change up as well as what other people are doing.”
Holliday also believes every team should have multiple bye weeks.
“The good thing is that we have two of them, which I think in college football, to be honest, everyone ought to have two byes for injury purposes and that type of thing,” Holliday said. “It gives kids a chance to catch their breath a little bit and get healthy. I think it came at a good time for us because we have a couple of guys who are banged up and we have some critical games coming up as well. So I think it fit in pretty well.”
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Holliday is still excited about the way that Marshall dominated down the stretch in the close win over the Bobcats.
After giving up the lead early in the the fourth quarter on a 72-yard run by Bobcats’ senior quarterback Nathan Rourke, Marshall’s offense answered with a seven play, 75-yard drive capped by a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaiah Green to tight end Xavier Gaines. Justin Rohrwasser missed the extra point, leaving Marshall with a two-point lead, but the Herd defense shutdown Ohio’s offense on the next possession, forcing a punt.
Marshall’s offense then ran out the clock on eight straight runs, taking the ball from the Marshall 28 to the Ohio 2.
“I saw a team that reacted the way you’re supposed to react,” Holliday said. “We had some adversity. We talk all the time about adversity occurring in every game and you just have to be able to overcome that. I saw a bunch of guys who had the right look in their eye and, at the end of the day, got it done. We made two drives when we had to and that was what was needed to get it done.”
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Marshall is getting plenty of time this week to begin preparations for Cincinnati.
The Bearcats, who are also off this week after a 2-1 start, are considered one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference.
Thus far, Cincinnati has beaten UCLA and Miami Ohio, while losing at Ohio State in Week 2.
The teams last met two years ago in Cincinnati, with Marshall coming away with a 38-21 win in the first season for current UC head coach Luke Fickell.
Holliday says the Bearcats have made great strides in the past two years and he’s especially impressed with Cincinnati’s offense, led by sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder and junior running back Michael Warren II.
“It seems like every week we play, we face a quarterback that’s going to be a problem and (Ritter) is,” Holliday said. “He was a freshman a year ago and they won a bunch of games with him. The thing that you’re seeing in college football now, almost every week, is a guy at that position who can beat you with his feet. You hear me say it every week, but it’s true. It will be a challenge for our defense.
“They have a tailback (Warren) who is 220-plus pounds. The reason that they were so successful last season is that they have good players. They have them again and it will be a great challenge for us.”