Marshall football: Herd visits Florida Atlantic to 'handle business'
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - For a large chunk of the Marshall University football roster, some of the toughest decisions entering the Thundering Herd's game Saturday at Florida Atlantic University didn't come on the field.
They came in deciding which family members made each player's ticket list.
Thirty-four of the Herd come from Florida, and 18 of those players are from the Dade-Broward-Palm Beach County area that includes Boca Raton, the site of FAU's campus. For some of them, it'll be the first time their families have seen them in person in a college football uniform.
"It's like our homecoming," said junior receiver and Miami Central High graduate Tommy Shuler.
Yet while the opportunity is there for those Sunshine State players to hang out with their families, that will take a back seat to the 5 p.m. game with the Owls, broadcast on Fox College Sports. By focusing on the business of winning, the Herd (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) will experience the pleasure of going 2-0 in C-USA for the first time since 2008.
"It's got to be a business trip," Shuler said. "Your family can see you after the season or at a big bowl game. We're going down there to see family and make sure they're OK, but we're really going down there to handle business. Business comes first."
The Herd took care of business last week with a convincing 34-10 win in its conference opener versus the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The Roadrunners entered the game ranked second in C-USA in total offense and were held to 177 yards and two touchdowns below their season averages.
The Owls (2-4, 1-3 C-USA) are another first-year Conference USA program, but Marshall players aren't dismissing them. They saw what FAU was able to do in its inaugural conference win last week over the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where the Owls scored 20 second-quarter points and never trailed again.
FAU wasn't ultimately successful in its three conference games prior to last week, but it's put up a pretty good fight. The Owls took Middle Tennessee to overtime before losing and led Rice with less than four minutes to go in that game before being swallowed in an ocean of turnovers and other mistakes.
Senior defensive end Alex Bazzie said it was obvious in scouting FAU that it's a team that hasn't put all the pieces together yet, but those pieces are starting to fall into place.
"From watching on film, they're a great that hasn't fully understood what they want to accomplish," he said. "When you watch film, you can tell they're a team with potential. It's scary when you face a team like that, because you don't want to be the team they face when they click."
The Owls have the components to click. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson gashed UAB for 404 yards of total offense, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. The secondary is anchored by D'Joun Smith, who already has intercepted three passes and batted down another nine this season.
It's not a game that need the distraction of more than a quarter of your roster coming home to play, but Marshall Coach Doc Holliday isn't worried. Those Floridians are on his roster for a reason, he said. They have the attitude and focus to not let family reunions block their path toward a conference title.
"Fortunately, we have some mature players," Holliday said. "These kids have all been here and they are starting to mature.
"We have some leadership on the team from our Florida guys and from guys from other places.
"We have to make sure it is handled properly."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.