TULSA, Okla. - Defending Conference USA champion Tulsa isn't defending much these days, except its pride.
And its home turf. For a Marshall team playing for high stakes, that's a problem - it is not one of the great road warriors of college football.
When the game kicks off at 7:30.EST tonight at H.A. Chapman Stadium, the Thundering Herd (6-3, 4-1) is comfortably favored over the Golden Hurricane (2-7, 1-4). That doesn't make sense in a rivalry that is 4-0 in the other direction, but Tulsa's slide to sixth place in the West Division doesn't make sense, either.
What does make sense, to the frustration of the Herd camp, is MU's continued road woes. Entering this season, the Herd was 10-39 in all road games (excluding bowls), 9-23 in league road contests.
The pattern has continued this season, in the strangest ways.
Ohio? A fumbled kickoff for a Bobcat touchdown, and a funky shovel pass to keep a drive alive killed the Herd.
Virginia Tech? It may have been the Herd's best ga]me of the season, but a triple-overtime loss nonetheless.
Middle Tennessee? The Herd defense went on siesta and the Blue Raiders won on the final play.
Florida Atlantic? A win but a rally from two scores down, finishing with a last-play field goal.
The Herd has played much better in its home games, even considering the quality of competition - remember, two probable 0-12 teams have visited Huntington. On the other hand, the Herd has played three bowl-eligible teams on the road, with Florida Atlantic expected to win out for a 6-6 record.
The Herd's goal tonight is to narrow the gap between the quality of home and road play.
"I think we lose energy," said tight end Gator Hoskins. "I mean, the fans bring a lot of energy [and we're] coming out and starting fast. You play in front of the home fans and they're really behind you. You get on the road, there's a lot of boos, quiet at times.
"We've just got to come out of there and start fast, be ready to go."
The last time the Herd played at Tulsa was two years ago, and that 59-17 loss was probably one of MU's worst in modern times. Using a stiff wind to its advantage, the Golden Hurricane took a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes, recovered a kickoff at the Marshall 16-yard line late in the half and cashed in for a 42-3 lead.
Last year in Huntington, the Hurricane twice stopped the Herd on fourth down inside the 20 to escape with a 45-38 win.
Several of the Herd's tormentors are still around, notably Trey Watts. The son of former Oklahoma quarterback and former congressman J.C. Watts ripped up the Herd for 111 rushing yards and a 95-yard kickoff return last year.
This year, his load is greater than ever - he has rushed for 857 yards, leads the team in receptions with 41, is the primary punt returner (long of 77 yards) and shares kickoff return duties. He has 1,535 all-purpose yards, 5,724 for his career, No. 2 on Tulsa's all-time list.
"He's utilized a little like Reggie Bush," said Chuck Heater, MU's defensive coordinator. "He's not quite that kind of guy in space, but they utilize him some that way. A good runner, a running back. His dad's a tremendous person and he comes from good stock."