HOUSTON - The Marshall University football team has about three weeks to lick its wounds following Saturday's disappointing - and decisive - 41-24 loss to Rice in the Conference USA title game.
Next on the Thundering Herd's schedule is the University of Maryland in the Military Bowl on Friday, Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN). The Herd must solve a conundrum before it plays the Terrapins in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. It must decipher why it struggles so mightily this season away from Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"All week, we knew where we wanted to be," quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "This is a championship game, and big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. And we didn't. We didn't make the plays we needed to make, and they made more plays. We have to come back off of this and we have to learn from it."
Marshall is 3-4 away from home in 2013 and, even in victory, the Herd (9-4) has its troubles. Of those three road wins, it needed a last-second field goal to beat Florida Atlantic, 24-23. It needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat a Tulsa team that was five games under .500 at the time, 45-34. And it trailed an awful Florida International team, 3-0, at the end of the first quarter before rebounding to pummel the Panthers, 48-10.
Otherwise, Marshall has left other teams' home fields quite dejected.
The Herd lost to Ohio 34-31, Virginia Tech, 29-21, in triple overtime, Middle Tennessee, 51-49, on the game's final play, and to the Owls.
Now, Marshall faces a Maryland team that will play this game about a half-hour from its College Park, Md., campus. Holliday said Sunday night this is the closest he can remember playing a bowl game to his opponent's home base. But, he added, the team can't allow that to be a factor, just as it wasn't a factor when the Herd beat Florida International in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"You know what? The bottom line is, they're not playing in their home stadium," he said. "All the functions are right there in D.C. and we'll head over to Annapolis and play on a neutral field, so we'll treat it as that. We played well the last bowl game, which everyone was talking about being a home game for FIU, too."
The Terps (7-5, 3-5 ACC) won five of their first six games, including a 37-0 win over West Virginia. The lone loss in that streak came in a 63-0 shellacking at the hands of Florida State. Since then, Maryland has lost four of six. It does hold an overtime victory over 8-4 Virginia Tech, which beat the Herd in triple overtime.
Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said that, from seeing Marshall on game film this year, there's no way he'll rest on having a quasi-home-field advantage.
"You see a well-balanced offense," he said of Marshall. "When you see a team that's rushed for (nearly) 3,000 yards and has passed for 3,700 yards, that's pretty good balance. Then you see a defense that gets turnovers and is very athletic and runs to the ball."