— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — An off week for the Marshall football team team doesn’t mean a week away from work.
After rattling off four straight wins and taking charge in the Conference USA East Division race, Marshall (6-3, 4-1) is using the first week of November to prepare for the immediate and long-term future.
After a few days off, players are back at practice, preparing for MU’s next contest, a home showdown Nov. 15 with Louisiana Tech, which currently leads C-USA’s West Division.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 4-0) must first face preseason Conference USA West favorite North Texas (4-5, 3-2) on Saturday.
Last Saturday, the Herd avoided a road letdown with a 20-7 victory at winless Rice. The game featured big offensive plays for Marshall in the first half and stifling defensive play in the second half.
“You just have to keep working, get people healthy and get better,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “We have to get better as a team in all three phases. We have some young guys on special teams that have to get better. (Against Rice) We had a couple of penalties that we should never have. That’s technique, fundamentals and things that we’re coaching those guys so those things don’t occur.
“We have to continue to develop some young players that can help us in the kicking game so that we have a chance to win that phase as well.”
Before returning to practices, many of Marshall’s coaches were on the recruiting trail, leaving from Houston after the Rice win to check out possible junior college prospects and meet with others on the program’s recruiting radar.
Holliday says that with the December football signing period now in its third year, the recruiting schedule has changed for coaches and Marshall plans to be prepared on signing day, which will be Dec. 19.
“With this early signing date now, of course, our goal is to be playing December 7 (for the Conference USA Championship),” Holliday said. “You have one week and then you have signing day with the bowl preparation and everything that goes along with that. You have to get out at some point. We were able to get out a little bit with the first bye and everyone is out this week, with the exception of coach Cramsey.
“We may only be able to get on the road two or three days prior to signing day, which is kind’ve crazy but that’s the way it is right now. Everything has gotten really accelerated. That’s why you have to do so much in the spring and summer.”
The remainder of Marshall’s schedule is challenging.
After the Louisiana Tech game, the Herd hits the road for the final time in the regular season for a Nov. 23 game at Charlotte (4-5, 2-3), a much-improved squad under first-year head coach Will Healy.
Marshall wraps up the regular season on Nov. 30 at home against veteran coach Butch Davis and his Florida International Panthers. FIU is 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the league.
After shaky performances in losses against Cincinnati and Middle Tennessee State, Holliday says his squad has developed a mentality of toughness and making big plays in crunch time.
“I heard what is probably the greatest compliment you can give a coach on Saturday when (Rice coach Mike Bloomgren) said that game was the first time all year that they had been ‘out-physicaled,’” Holliday said. “I felt better about that than anything in that game.
“I do think we take great pride in being a physical football team, both up front offensively and defensively. That’s a great compliment by him. We just have tough guys who like to play.”