Marshall football: Cato, Herd aware bowl bid at stake
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Nine months for 10 days.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said that's the scenario for his Thundering Herd. After spring practice, summer workouts and 10 regular-season games, the Herd has two games in a 10-day span that will decide whether it goes bowling for a second straight year.
"You work your tail off for nine months for 10 days and two opportunities and that's what it's come to," Holliday said.
For the second game, a post-Thanksgiving visit to East Carolina, to mean anything, Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) must win its home finale against Houston (4-6, 3-3) at noon Saturday (CSS telecast).
The Thundering Herd had a shot at some breathing room last week, but that disappeared after a lethargic first half at UAB that created a deficit Marshall couldn't overcome.
Marshall lost 38-31 to a Blazers team that amassed just two wins entering that game. Now the Herd is fighting for its postseason life with no margin for error.
Marshall does have history on its side. No team from the state of Texas has won in Huntington in eight tries. The Cougars are part of that statistic, losing at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2008. And there's another piece of history that should calm Marshall's nerves.
It was just last year when the Herd was in the identical position it's in now - needing to win out the regular season to reach a bowl game. Marshall won two straight, then won the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl over Florida International.
"I think our kids understand what is at stake," Holliday said. "They have to go play extremely well. It is the same scenario we had a Memphis a year ago too. We found a way to go win last year and that is what this team has to go do."
One more break could go the Herd's way, as Houston's starting running back, redshirt junior Charles Sims, has been day-to-day after spraining his ankle two games ago against East Carolina and missing last week's loss to Tulsa.
Sims' teammates are hopeful he'll return. He tops Conference USA with 106.1 rushing yards per game and would be a potent weapon against a Marshall defense that is among the nation's worst at stopping the run. The Herd is 110th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, allowing 221.6 yards per game.
The Herd could be without three senior team captains itself. Receiver Aaron Dobson and linebacker Devin Arrington both missed last game due to knee injuries. Receiver/returner Andre Snipes-Booker left the UAB game after what looked like a blow to the head and Holliday said his status is up in the air. Another captain, sixth-year guard John Bruhin, should be back after missing the last two games with a twisted ankle.
Bruhin said he and the other veteran leaders have an important job away from the field for this game. They need to make sure the younger players - and there are 19 players who are redshirt sophomores or younger on the two-deep chart - don't let the sense of urgency with which they need to compete devolve into panic.
"We have to try to keep them calm, try to keep them level and not have them get ahead of themselves," he said.
In quarterback Rakeem Cato's mind, the team must remember to enjoy itself on the field. That might not be too easy to do, especially in the face of such pressure. But C-USA's leading passer said that having fun and staying relaxed should put the Herd in a better position to perform well.
Cato is looking for a bounce-back game himself. He rebounded in the second half against the Blazers, but still threw for only 216 yards last Saturday, his lowest total of the season.
"You've got to have fun on everything you're doing, no matter what you're doing," Cato said. "That's one thing I feel like we've lacked. We've lacked just going out there and having fun.
"One thing I know about this team, is when we have fun, we're playing our best football," he added. "That's one thing we have to do right now, have fun and not over-think yourself."
Lose Saturday, though, and the final days of Marshall's 2012 season won't be fun for anyone.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.