Column: Stakes high for Marshall football


The stakes are paramount as the Marshall University football team prepares to play Western Kentucky University Nov. 27.

The game is scheduled to be played on Black Friday with television coverage to start at noon. The winner will be the Conference USA East Division champion and will most likely host the conference championship game.

The teams enter Friday’s match up with almost identical win-loss records. Both teams have lost two games, but WKU has two games left against Florida International University and Marshall.

The Hilltoppers are 8-2 overall, while the Herd is 9-2 overall but has just one game left in the regular season schedule with a bowl game eligibility achieved and the potential of the conference championship game.

Marshall, after a grueling schedule of week-to-week matchups, has a bye week to prepare for the game while WKU will travel to Miami Saturday.

Marshall’s two losses came at the hands of historical rival Ohio University and conference opponent Middle Tennessee State University.

WKU lost its two games to traditional Southeastern Conference power Louisiana State University and Big Ten member Indiana University.

One commonality that does not bode well for Marshall is that WKU has not lost a home game this season. Marshall has not lost a home games either, but the game will be taking place in L.T. Smith Stadium located in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Another identifier of the two teams can be seen in the West Division of Conference USA. Louisiana Tech and the University of Southern Mississippi sit atop the west division standings with identical 7-3 overall records and 5-1 conference marks.

The lone conference losses were to Marshall for Southern Mississippi and Western Kentucky for Louisiana Tech.

Both games were different but had similar traits. However, one of the primary keys of each was turnovers. Western Kentucky forced two turnovers and won its matchup by three despite a spirited comeback attempt by Louisiana Tech.

In Marshall’s match with Southern Mississippi, the defense shined forcing five turnovers with a defensive score off a fumbled ball deep in Golden Eagle territory. The fumble was forced by defensive end Gary Thompson and caught out of the air by senior defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel, who then dove into the end zone for the final score of the game.

The significance of these two particular games is more than past matchups. Marshall will most likely schematically have a similar approach to Louisiana Tech. The prolific offense of Western Kentucky is similar to the passing attack of Southern Mississippi and the best way to keep those types of offenses from really damaging chances of victory is to give them as little chance to operate as possible.

Louisiana Tech attempted to accomplish this by rushing the ball but fell behind early in the game and had to adjust strategy.

Kenneth Dixon, the leading rusher for Louisiana Tech, rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries against WKU. Those are quality numbers, but his team fell behind 21-3 early into the second quarter, and he could have easily had much more of an impact.

As for the Herd’s matchup, head coach Doc Holliday said if preparation and game planning are mirrored by the scoreboard, his team should not fall into the early deficit Louisiana Tech did.

“We got great kids and great leadership on this team,” Holliday said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “Yesterday I looked up and they were all around (the facility). You look at them, they were in the building; they are watching tape on their own. And mentally, you don’t have to worry about them being mentally sharp and getting ready to go play; they’ll do that.”

Holliday continued as he praised his team’s attitude and preparation during the bye week. While time will tell if the Herd can overcome the only team to defeat it last year, it is almost a certainty that it will be prepared.

Joseph Ashley can be contacted [email protected].