— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall coach Doc Holliday believes his team will have its hands full when it hits the road for Saturday’s Conference USA matchup with Southern Mississippi at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Preparing for the Golden Eagles is a challenge for Holliday, because there is no major weakness on both sides of the ball that can be easily exploited.
“They are one of the top teams in the league in total offense and one of the top teams in total defense as well,” Holliday said. “You don’t have those kind of stats out there if you don’t have good players and they have excellent players.
“They have a quarterback (Jack Abraham) who has thrown for a lot of yards, a defense that has been very stingy in the red zone and, statistically, one of, if not the top defenses in our league.”
The game kicks off at 3 p.m. and will be shown nationally on Stadium Facebook Live.
Marshall (5-2, 3-1) is coming off its bye week, while the Golden Eagles (3-4, 2-2) lost last Saturday at Charlotte, 20-17.
The Golden Eagles are coached by Jay Hopson, who is in his third year in Hattiesburg. Hopson spent five years in Huntington as an assistant to former MU head coach Bob Pruett, where he was part of the program’s I-AA national championship and multiple Mid-American Conference titles.
Hopson knows his club faces a major challenge from the visitors on Saturday.
“Marshall is just a good football team,” Hopson said. “They play fast on defense and offensively they are multi-dimensional as they run it and throw it.
“We have to come out on Saturday and execute and that is something that we didn’t do last week.”
Hopson has been successful against the Herd as his Golden Eagles teams have beaten Marshall each of the past two seasons, including a 28-27 win in Huntington in the regular season finale in 2017. Southern Miss leads the all-time series, 7-6.
Holliday is hopeful Herd’s off-week came at a good time as Marshall is relatively healthy and ready for an important November stretch run.
“We have a lot of guys that are back now and I don’t foresee anyone not playing Saturday at this point,” Holliday said. “We have a four-game stretch now where every game is a championship game at this point, so it’s important that we get ready to go play them all, starting with Southern Miss.”
Among those expected to be available are former starting quarterback Isaiah Green, who was injured in the Western Kentucky win, and starting running back Tyler King, who was injured late in the recent Homecoming victory over FAU.
One area Marshall can perhaps take advantage of is turnovers as Southern Miss is minus-8 in turnover margin this season, with 11 takeaways and 19 giveaways.
Another problem for Southern Miss has been red zone failures, including a lost fumble at the Charlotte 8-yard line last week.
“Those things will get you beat and always will — if you don’t protect the football and you don’t take care of details, you get beat” Hopson said. “I take responsibility for all of it because it’s my job, but we have to work on the details and get better.
“We are just going to keep battling and keep chopping wood and we are going to go to work.”
Despite the improved health of Green, Holliday says the Herd will stay with junior transfer Alex Thomson as the starting quarterback. Thomson has a 2-1 record in his starts and has led Marshall to conference wins over Old Dominion and FAU.
Holliday expects Thomson’s growth to continue.
“I think he has grown as a player and become more comfortable in every game he has played,” Holliday said. “I think everyone has seen improvement from game one to game two and then game three and I expect the same kind of improvement going into game four.
“He is a competitive guy who works extremely hard at what he does and I see him getting better every week.”