Holliday adjusting to offensive explosion
HUNTINGTON - Marshall coach Doc Holliday wants his offense to put up the big numbers, score a lot of points. He hired coaches and recruited athletes to accomplish that goal, and it's starting to pay off.
The Thundering Herd is 2-3 but has scored 205 points, an average of 41.0 per game. Let's put that in perspective: Marshall did not score 41 in any one game through the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, plus the first eight games of 2011, a span of 45 games.
That dike has been unplugged, but the water is flowing both ways. Marshall has been hit with 69 points by West Virginia and 51 by Rice and Purdue.
Then again, the offenses are getting the upper hand nationwide. The nation is still buzzing over West Virginia's 70-63 scorefest with Baylor.
It has Holliday's head buzzing, too. He may have coached offensive positions for years, but he is a former linebacker and still likes a little good defense.
"I look around the country today. You know, Texas probably has as good of players as anybody on defense," Holliday said. "You look up and, all of a sudden, Oklahoma State with a backup quarterback scores 36. Don't tell me that West Virginia and Baylor don't have some pretty good defensive players, and it's 70-63.
"What's happening in college football today is just amazing to me. Tommy Shuler, against a Big Ten team that's picked to maybe play for the championship, has 19 catches for 200 yards; they can't match up. They don't have enough players to match up with those three- and four-wide sets at times, and it creates issues for them.
"I think everybody's going through some growing pains defensively around the country, of trying to match up with what's happened to the offenses. You've got to catch up quick - I still believe in my heart that you win championships playing great defense. When we're sitting here having our last press conference, you're probably going to see the Alabamas of the world, people who are playing great defense, playing for championships."
There have been a few track meets in Conference USA. Houston and Rice lost to Louisiana Tech by scores of 56-49 and 56-37; Rice turned around and tied Marshall at 41 at the end of regulation before falling 54-51; Marshall fell to Purdue 51-41.
And while that last game was transpiring, Tulsa was sweating out a 49-42 win over Alabama-Birmingham at Legion Field.
The Golden Hurricane remains Conference USA's leader in total defense, but it showed its high-risk, high-reward characteristics. UAB quarterback Austin Brown was sacked seven times but pulled off several big passes - including a 75-yard touchdown pass on the game's first play from scrimmage.
"They gave up some big plays. They missed tackles, gave up a couple of big plays they don't normally give up," Holliday said. "And they turned the ball over a couple of times, had a blocked punt that gave UAB a short field, starting from the plus-5-yard line. And I tell you, UAB's got some players now."
And there's that tempo thing. Marshall's 92.4 scrimmage plays per game lead the country, but seven of the nation's top 10 offenses are squeezing off more than 80 snaps.
That is negating schemes and leaving defenses winded and frustrated. That helped Marshall get back within striking position against Purdue, and could help the Herd knock off Tulsa at home on Saturday.
"If you can line up, if you can make the proper read and hit the proper 'hot' [receiver], if you can protect, you've got a shot," Holliday said. "Against UAB last week, [Tulsa] gave up some big plays."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.