Marshall is in a very familiar position as it begins the second half of the season. It was just a year ago The Herd was sitting at 2-4 and needing to rally to become bowl-eligible. The 2011 Herd answered the call, winning five of their last seven games and finishing the year 7-6 with a bowl victory.
Now, the 2012 team faces the same challenge and Doc Holliday is confident Marshall can get it turned around.
“This time a year ago, our football team was sitting right exactly in the same position. That football team had a small group of seniors, but those seniors played their best football the last six or seven weeks of the season and ended up winning five of the last seven and finished on a positive note. That’s exactly the same place we are right now,” said Holliday.
“So, it’s important that our kids understand that our goals … we have not played one team in the East Division yet. This will be the first team that we lined up and played in the Eastern part of our conference. So, all their hopes and dreams and goals are out there.”
Marshall’s offense has been knifing through opposing defenses all season long. Marshall’s 558 yards of offense per game is third best in the nation. Quarterback Rakeem Cato was added to the Manning Award Watch List this week as it has become hard to not take notice of the quarterback with the most completions and passing yards in the country.
The first test of the second half of the season is a conference rival Southern Miss, which has struggled through the transition to first-year head coach Ellis Johnson. Johnson took over the reins when Larry Fedora left to take the job at North Carolina. Even though the Golden Eagles are winless, linebacker D.J. Hunter says they can’t be overlooked.
“We can’t go out there and take them lightly whatsoever,” said Hunter.
“They’ve had a lot of good players down there for a long time, and I know they’ve been struggling a little bit right now because they have a new staff, but they still have good players,” emphasized offensive coordinator Bill Legg.
Defensively, Southern Miss has faced a tough stretch through the first six games. Nebraska, East Carolina, Western Kentucky, Louisville, Boise State and UCF made for formidable tests and the stats reflect the quality of the opponents. The Golden Eagles are ranked 105th nationally in scoring defense giving up nearly 36 points per game. USM gives up nearly 200 yards a game rushing and more than 400 yards total offense. But Legg reminds times have changes and giving up 400 yards of total offense these days isn’t that bad.
“Times have changed — right now 400 yards a game puts you in the top half of the country.”
Linebacker Jamie Collins is the leader of the defense. A year ago, Collins ranked among the nation’s leaders in both tackles for loss and sacks. This year Collins leads Southern Miss with 48 tackles, 10 behind the line of scrimmage, and has tallied a team high five sacks.
Collins plays the bandit position in defensive coordinator Tommy West’s 4-2-5 defense. He is joined at linebacker by Alan Howze and Dylan Reda.
Up front Southern Miss is young. Just two seniors, Khalid Wilson and Joel Ross rotate in throughout the game. The rest are freshmen, sophomores and a junior who are gaining experience but are still very green.
Defensive back Deron Wilson headlines the secondary and started all 33 games since the 2010 season. Wilson leads the Golden Eagles in interceptions among active players with seven including three that were returned for touchdowns. Martex Thompson, Alex Smith and Reggie Hunt will also start in the defensive backfield.
The exact look Marshall will get from Southern Miss is still a bit of mystery because it has yet to face an offense like Marshall’s. The closest fit would have been Louisville but that game was played in a monsoon and didn’t give Bill Legg a good look at how the Golden Eagles might defend The Herd.
“They’ve done a little bit of everything through the first six games so we’re practicing against a little bit of everything. We’ll tweak whatever we need to tweak as the game goes on once we figure out how they’re going to attack us.”
“Louisville was the one. Unfortunately it was torrential downpour with standing water on the field. You could throw it but nobody was going to catch it.”
The numbers favor Marshall’s offense in this matchup but going to Hattiesburg is never an easy proposition.
Up next we’ll scout the Golden Eagle offense vs. the Marshall defense… next on the Sudden Link Kickoff Show on the Thundering Herd IMG Sports Network.
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