Marshall football: Herd can't overlook struggling FIU
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall University football team has what could be one of its most important games in recent history just seven days away.
But on Saturday, the Thundering Herd visits a Florida International University team with one win.
That meeting with the Panthers at 6 p.m. on Fox College Sports Central is the only thing standing between the Herd (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA) and a Black Friday showdown with East Carolina for the conference's East Division title and a berth in the C-USA championship game. And while FIU (1-9, 1-5 C-USA) might not provide the toughest challenge, the situation - focusing on the present when the future is so crucial - might.
So Marshall Coach Doc Holliday has made sure his Herd doesn't ignore the Panthers at its own peril.
"The message to the football team this week is, every Sunday you pick up the paper and see a team that got beat, but shouldn't have," Holliday said.
The Herd does get to experience the benefit of having so many goals still in play. The only way for next week's ECU game to have the most meaning is to win Saturday.
Lose to FIU - and only winless Southern Mississippi has suffered that fate in 2013 - and the East Division picture could get muddled.
If Marshall loses to FIU and beats ECU, then Middle Tennessee wins out against Southern Miss and the University of Texas at El Paso, then MTSU, Marshall and ECU all sit with 6-2 conference records. And Marshall will have beaten ECU, which beat Middle Tennessee, which beat Marshall.
The only way for Marshall to guarantee a win-and-you're-in scenario with ECU is to take care of FIU.
"You've got to win every single one of them to get where you want to go," redshirt junior Chris Jasperse said, "and that's the championship. So you really have to take it one game at a time. We can't worry about ECU down the road. We have to worry about FIU right now. We lose this week, and next week's not so meaningful."
The Herd found a way to win on the road last week, something that has never been easy under Holliday.
And it wasn't easy against Tulsa, as Marshall watched a 21-point lead vanish and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to vanquish the Golden Hurricane, 45-34. If Marshall can knock off FIU, it will be the first time in Holliday's tenure and the first time since 2003 that the Herd has won at least three road games in a season.
That shouldn't be too arduous, even with Marshall's penchant for struggling away from Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Panthers are near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in a slew of major categories, including points scored (10.1 per game, 122nd out of 123 FBS teams) and points allowed (37.5 per game, 109th in the FBS).
FIU could muster just 10 points in a loss last week to UTEP, a team that allowed 41 points per game entering that matchup. Among FIU's losses is a 34-13 setback at home to Bethune-Cookman University, a Football Championship Subdivision team that lost to Norfolk State two games ago.
Still, Holliday has warned the team that, if it starts becoming enamored with everything before the game, like the opportunity for many of the Herd's South Floridian players to visit their families, and after the game, the stage could be set for a disappointing finish.
"We have to eliminate the noise," Holliday said. "There's talk about bowls and this and that.
"If we are concerned about anything other than going and playing FIU at this point then our focus isn't where it needs to be. We have to take care of business on Saturday and then we'll worry about all the other noise."
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.