Herd ready for physical battle with Tulsa
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There's one word used over and over in describing the philosophy of Tulsa's football program: physical.
Players no doubt had Tulsa on the mind when they were lifting all those barbells in the middle of the summer. Then again, tackle Clint Van Horn said they had every other team on their minds.
Marshall strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair made sure of it.
"Each week in the offseason, they started this thing where they put up the pictures of the team mascot, or whatever," Van Horn said. "They'd have Tulsa one week and the next week Southern Miss week, stuff like that. And it would engrave in our minds early, even before the season started, that's what we're working for.
"Our strength coaches did a good job with that, they emphasized us being physical, and that's all Coach Sinclair screams on the sidelines."
Speaking of physical players, the UAB game was the first game in which the Herd's three top tight ends caught at least one pass - and caught one for at least 39 yards, to boot.
That was the distance of Eric Frohnapfel's TD catch, a first-quarter shot that gave Marshall the lead for good at 14-7. It was almost by random that he was in the game for top tight end Gator Hoskins.
"Gator was taking 40 snaps that game, and he was in for that series," Frohnapfel said. "He came out for a play; he ran eight in a row and was a little winded. It just so happened that it was third-and-15 and we were trying to go deep. I was getting doubled, and a guy came off to double Tommy Shuler, so it was one-and-one and Cato threw it up there."
Hoskins had a 50-yard reception to set up a TD late in the first half, and Devon Johnson caught a 41-yarder in the third quarter to move the Herd from its 6-yard line. As Johnson barreled over multiple defenders, the Herd sideline was howling.
"He's a tank. On that play, I was laughing on the sideline," Frohnapfel said. "He's not stopping. He's catching the ball running full-speed, and he's pretty good with the ball in his hands."
While their combined four receptions for 147 yards were impressive, the tight ends' blocking was cited as a catalyst for the Herd's 381 rushing yards.
"Our tight ends and receivers are the reason our big runs go big," said center Chris Jasperse. "We can spring them 5, 6 yards ourselves, but those guys, they've got to block the edge. They've done a good job of finishing [blocks] these past few weeks."
Update from Tulsa: Coach Bill Blankenship confirmed Tuesday that Dane Evans will start for the third consecutive game at quarterback, with seven-game starter Cody Green dressed up for emergency purposes only. He has injured his left thigh and right knee.
Blankenship said there were no further injuries - emphasis on the word "further." With offense lineman Stetson Burnett the latest notable case, the Golden Hurricane has hit its injury quota and then some.
The "75" decals adorning the left side of the Herd's helmets Thursday night were greeted with enthusiasm by the Marshall players, along with an equal dose of reverence.
The Herd will play a road game on Nov. 14 for the first time since the 1970 plane crash, and the traveling players will be unable to attend the annual memorial ceremony. The "75," the number of victims, serves as a poignant reminder to those players.
"When [out-of-state players] get here, they learn just as much as I know about it, and they take it just as seriously when they sign that contract to play for this team," said Van Horn, a Beckley native. "They're part of the history just as much as I am, just as much as anybody is. It's all in our memories, and we do a good job of representing the community."
There are still three weeks left in the regular season, and a lot of things can happen in the Conference USA division races. OK, maybe East Carolina losing to UAB and Marshall losing to Florida International are possibilities too far-fetched to be taken seriously.
Still, there are a several possibilities and several potential strange tiebreakers.
For instance, consider Marshall. The Herd controls its destiny in the East Division race, and will win it by beating Tulsa on Thursday, FIU on Nov. 23 and high-octane East Carolina on Nov. 29. As for hosting the Conference USA championship game, Marshall doesn't control everything.
That game is Dec. 7, hosted by the team with the best league record. In the eight previous years of the C-USA championship game, that has been clear-cut - either the host had a superior record or won a head-to-head tiebreaker.
So what if East Carolina or Marshall faces North Texas or Rice in the title game, and both sides are 7-1? The teams did not play each other.
That would trigger, for the first time, the BCS standings tiebreaker. With nobody in the league getting votes in the coaches' poll or Harris interactive poll, that leaves the job to the six computer indexes. Remember, you drop the best and the worst score and average the other four.
If the season ended now, ECU would definitely host and Marshall would definitely hit the road. But that's a moving target.
Another crazy scenario exists in the East race: Middle Tennessee will very likely finish 6-2 in the league, as it plays Southern Mississippi and Texas-El Paso. Should Marshall lose at Tulsa and beat ECU, an "unbreakable" three-time tiebreaker would exist (i.e., Team A beats Team B, B beats C, C beats A).
East Carolina has a sizable lead over the other two in BCS computer rankings. Marshall's mission: Just win, baby.
So how does a team handle a short week, playing one Saturday and then the next Thursday? For starters, you skip the post-victory celebration in the Saturday game.
The practices have to be condensed, and it's a good idea to cut out the full contact. Monday's workout, which best resembled the team's usual Tuesday practice, was held in "shells."
Those in the trenches need to conserve their energy and try to ease as many bumps and bruises as possible.
"Treatment," offensive tackle Garrett Scott said. "Cold tubs, a lot of film, just roll with it."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.