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Marshall football: Holliday, Herd look to rebound

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- As the game slipped away for Marshall in last Saturday's 54-17 loss to Central Florida, the murmur of the crowd dwindled to nearly nothing.

With every dropped pass and missed assignment on offense, every missed tackle and big play allowed on defense and every kickoff return for touchdown allowed on special teams, the Thundering Herd faithful started filing to the exits in greater numbers.

By the time the game ended, the attendance looked more like that of a spring game, not of a crucial Conference USA game against a heated rival.

Marshall fans aren't happy with the Herd's record, and Coach Doc Holliday doesn't blame them.

"Are we disappointed? Yes," Holliday said. "As a head coach, I'm disappointed, our kids are disappointed and I'd be disappointed if our fan base wasn't disappointed. I don't want to be anywhere that the fans don't care. There are places where that happens. I don't want to be the head coach at those places. I want to be head coach at places where the fans are upset because we don't win."

Holliday is getting his wish right now, but the Herd doesn't want to test anyone's patience much longer.

Marshall (3-5, 2-2) hosts Memphis (1-7, 1-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday in a game that has morphed into a near must-win. The Herd has four games to win at least three and reach back-to-back bowl games for the first time in a decade.

A win would also snap a three-game home losing streak, a streak the Herd hasn't suffered since the 2007 season.

Marshall went 3-9 that year. Matching that loss total is the last thing the players want to do, quarterback Rakeem Cato said.

"The next four games, we have to win those ballgames, especially at home," Cato said. "The fans, we need to make the fans happy, knowing they're taking the time out of their life to come watch us play. We've got to give them what they want."

What the fans - and the players and coaches - want is for the Thundering Herd to bounce back from its worst overall performance of the season. The offense gained just 364 yards and scored 17 points against UCF, both season lows. The only season high for the offense that game came in missed assignments. Cato said the Herd offense had 19, when it normally averages single digits.

The defense gave up 568 yards against the Knights and lost defensive captain Devin Arrington in the process. A fifth-year senior and starting weak-side linebacker, Arrington left the game with a right knee injury and Holliday said he could be out for at least two to three weeks.

Sophomore Deon Meadows, who recorded seven tackles, forced and recovered a fumble and blocked an extra point, likely will take his place in the starting lineup.

Special teams also struggled against UCF, allowing two Quincy McDuffie kickoff returns for touchdowns. It was the first time a Knights player - or any Conference USA player - scored on two kickoffs in the same game.

While UCF is the class of C-USA's East Division, Memphis is last in the conference in total offense (286.5 yards per game), passing offense (146.2 ypg) and scoring offense (17.5 points per game). The Tigers are OK at running the ball, averaging 140.2 yards per game. Run defense is a Marshall weak spot. The Herd allows 233.2 rushing yards per game. Only Tulane is worse in C-USA.

Defensively, the Tigers aren't bad at disrupting things behind the line of scrimmage. Memphis is -fifth in the conference in both sacks (14) and tackles for loss (47). That was a cause for concern for Marshall last week. UCF sacked Cato four times and hurried him 10 times.

Memphis' poor record might be bad for Marshall. The Tigers' postseason quest has halted and all they have left is to play the spoiler role. The Herd's margin for error gets slimmer with each loss. Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said there's no way Marshall can take anyone lightly now.

"It is getting to that point," Taylor said. "We've got a 1-7 Memphis team coming in, and they're going to be dangerous. They're going to be firing on all cylinders and bringing out all of the trick stuff. They've got nothing to lose.

"They might want to just wreck our chances of going to a bowl game. You can't sleep on anybody at the end of the season. That's where things, I think, start to intensify."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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