Marshall football: Limiting turnovers, mistakes focus of bye week for Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team's roadblocks to victory haven't always come from the opposing sideline this season.
At 2-4 through its first six games, the Thundering Herd didn't just deal with the problems its adversaries presented. It also had to overcome self-inflicted maladies.
"Sometimes, it just burns you up," corner Keith Baxter Jr. said. "You're like, 'How are we losing these games?' and 'How are they scoring on those drives?' We're shooting ourselves in the foot a lot of the time. It really burns me up sometimes that we're doing it to ourselves."
It's the mistakes Marshall knows it's able to correct - turnovers and penalties - that made it even more difficult for the Herd to win in the first half of the 2012 season. And it's those mistakes the players know must be erased if they want to reverse the team's fortunes and reach another bowl game.
The Herd was flagged 46 times in its first six games, and averaged 72.12 penalty yards per game. That ranks Marshall 103rd among 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Marshall also is one of nine teams in the FBS tied for 89th in turnovers lost with 12 - six interceptions and six fumbles.
"Those are the (mistakes) you can correct and those are the ones that cost you games," sixth-year guard John Bruhin said. "Turnovers and penalties can seal a game. That's what we have to focus on."
It's not just that turnovers and penalties are happening. It's also about when they happen. Only Oregon is worse in the FBS in allowing first downs by penalty.
The Ducks have allowed 18, while Marshall and Utah State have allowed 17. In the Herd's 27-24 loss to Ohio, the Bobcats took a 17-14 halftime lead following a 13-play, 96-yard touchdown drive. That drive could have been stopped after four plays, but Baxter was flagged for pass interference on third and 6 at Ohio's 19.
Marshall's turnovers have been especially frustrating for the team over the last two games. Three of them have been returned for touchdowns. Marshall lost to Purdue by 10 two weeks ago and gave the Boilermakers 14 points on two pick-six interceptions in the second quarter. In this past Saturday's 45-38 loss to Tulsa, Dwight Dobbins scooped up an Aaron Dobson fumble for an 11-yard touchdown return.
Some of those turnovers can be flukes, Bruhin said. A ball bounces off a shoulder pad and into a defender's arms. But many of the mistakes Marshall has suffered in the first half of this season are mental errors, correctable issues that churn players' stomachs when they relive them on game film.
Sophomore wide receiver Tommy Shuler said it shouldn't take the Herd long to fix those mistakes.
"You can fix them in a day of practice or period of practice," Shuler said. "Or just 10 minutes. Those are mental mistakes, when you're tired and can't go no more. I just feel you can fix that anytime."
Marshall gets a chance to address those mental errors during this week's bye week. There is no immediate opponent on the horizon, so the Herd can focus on itself rather than trying to solve another team. Baxter said it would help if the team hearkened back to its attitude during preseason practices.
"We've just got to go back to grinding, how we were when we came out in camp and in the offseason, working really hard," Baxter said. "We've got to find something."
Shuler said there's no alternative. The correctable errors of the first six games need corrected in order for the Herd to reach bowl eligibility, a goal that now sits four wins away.
"Going into this next six-game stretch, we're going to go through this off-week and get right," Shuler said. "All the mistakes have to be thrown out. We have to go out and be perfect. We haven't had a perfect game yet."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.