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ECU domination, bowl destinations, Holliday's handiwork and Bob Bolen

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- WELL, MARSHALL beat somebody better than Miami (Ohio) and Florida International. Beat 'em down and kicked 'em some more.

A few days after watching the Thundering Herd's 59-28 keelhauling of East Carolina, I still don't believe what I've seen. This was a very good Pirate team and Marshall treated it like ...

FIU. Or Southern Mississippi. Or the folks from Birmingham.

(How 'bout Southern Miss dropping 62 on 'Bama-B in Legion Field? That's how you bust a 23-game skid, folks.)

This had a similar, strange feeling to the other time the Herd smothered ECU at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, when an undermanned defense held Skip Holtz's Pirates to seven points. As the score headed toward 26-7, the pundits kept wondering, "When are these guys going to make a run?"

They never did. The same thing happened Friday, except the score was bigger and so were the stakes.

Think about it: ECU lost to Virginia Tech 15-10. Smoked North Carolina 55-31. Led North Carolina State 35-7 after three quarters.

No, that's not national championship-caliber competition, but they are three Atlantic Coast Conference schools. ECU beat two of them badly.

I didn't expect the Pirates to roll into Joan C. Edwards Stadium and do that to Marshall, but I thought they had a few more weapons to endure another typical Herd-ECU game.

I was woefully mistaken, and it was a sight to see how much.

Marshall has two games remaining, thanks to that performance. After the Herd gets a chance to beat another nine-win team, it then will try to prove it can beat a team from a "Power 5" conference.

The bowl game will give the Herd a shot at Mississippi or an ACC team to be named. Ole Miss seems to be a near-lock to go to the Liberty Bowl. Otherwise, the Herd likely goes to the Military Bowl in Annapolis to play Syracuse, Georgia Tech or whoever.

Not sure about you, but I'd prefer a New Year's Eve game in Memphis, and I think Herd fans are thinking the same way - at least those who went there for the Conference USA basketball tournament in 2012.

One conventional theory has Marshall going to Annapolis if it doesn't win the conference championship and get invited to the Liberty Bowl. Another scenario has popped up: Marshall to Memphis and Rice to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, no matter what happens on Saturday.

Not sure if that will be the case next Sunday night, when the BCS games are ironed out and the bowl pins fall one by one. But wouldn't it be sweet for Marshall to get C-USA's last Liberty Bowl hurrah?

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  • This is what should happen in year No. 4 after a coaching change. The construction of this team under coach Doc Holliday has been interesting.

    Of those regulars who played in the Herd win over ECU:

  • Three were announced in the 2009 signing day class, the last under coach Mark Snyder (cornerback Monterius Lovett, offensive lineman Alex Schooler, defensive tackle James Rouse).
  • That did not include defensive end Alex Bazzie or 1,000-yard rusher Essray Taliaferro, who walked on.  

  • Remember all those true freshmen who played in Holliday's first season, 2010? Multi-TD tight end Gator Hoskins, receiver Demetrius Evans, offensive tackle Garrett Scott and defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow do, believe me.
  • Sophomores and juniors who have not redshirted include quarterback Rakeem Cato, receivers Tommy Shuler and Craig Wilkins, tight ends Eric Frohnapfel and Devon Johnson, and linebacker Jermaine Holmes.
  • Three true freshmen have played this fall, and for good reason: safety Tiquan Lang, linebacker Stefan Houston and kicker Amareto Curraj, he of Albanian heritage. Lang sent D.J. Hunter to the second string, which none of us saw coming.
  • On the two-deep, the south Florida count is seven: receivers Davonte Allen, Evans and Shuler, Cato, safety A.J. Leggett, nickel back Corey Tindal and kicker Justin Haig.
  • I'm omitting running back Kevin Grooms, whose indefinite suspension probably should be made permanent after his latest brush with the law. Grooms did not play against ECU.

  • Two were Penn State refugees, receiver/kick returner Devon "Moo Moo" Smith and cornerback Derrick Thomas. Thomas must step up in a big way if Darryl Roberts can't go against Rice.
  • Speaking of injuries, I'm still leaning toward Roberts as the defensive MVP. Linebacker Evan McKelvey's comeback from an ACL tear has been remarkable. Leggett came back strong from an injury that kept him off the field in 2012.

  • Four were nonqualifiers or partial qualifiers: running back Steward Butler, defensive tackle Steve Dillon, defensive end Gary Thompson and Tindal.   
  • The "Iron Five" O-linemen include one walk-on (center Chris Jasperse), a Sweden native (Sebastian Johansson) and a Beckley-grown disciple of Doug Legursky (Clint Van Horn). In the spirit of West Virginia, Van Horn just plain worked his way into the lineup.
  • Blake Brooks, he of the "Cheese Package," is not only a West Virginian and a Kanawha Valley native, but did you remember he's a walk-on and a Division II transfer?
  • And then there is Jeremiah Taylor, who literally walked on from the street as an out-of-shape 300-pounder a few years back. You just might see the 25-year-old suit up for the bowl game.
  • Did I miss anybody? Probably did, among the special-teams contributors. They know who they are, and so do their coaches.

    Speaking of coaches, it's tough to quantify the contribution of strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair. He had a tough act to follow in Joe Miday, but he seems to have done it.

    Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's contribution has been documented, maybe over-documented. And we have forgotten this: There were seven new coaches on the staff, putting a premium on Holliday to reshape his staff.

    This team needed to win eight games in the regular season (I didn't participate in the over-hype of summer, by the way). It has won nine and is going for Nos. 10 and 11. It won its first division title since 2002, in the Mid-American Conference days.

    The three losses have been by a combined five points in regulation - to Ohio by three, Virginia Tech in overtime and Middle Tennessee State by two. The Herd thumped division-contender Texas-San Antonio, yanked out an ugly road win and went 5-0 in November.

    That's the tangible truth. And for once, this team might have captured the advantage in intangibles - you know, the themes of leadership, cohesiveness and pure effort we heard so often over the last 11 years.

    "I think this team has now found ways to win games, instead of ways to lose," Holliday said. "We have lost for so long around here that now we're finally winning [and] I think the culture has changed and these kids - like Chad [Pennington] and Byron [Leftwich], the great teams around here did, they find ways to win it instead of lose it.

    "As a coach, that's a hell of a deal. That's good to see."

    You can tell Holliday genuinely loves this team. If you have a shred of kelly green in your closet, you should love this team, too.

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  • It was great to see Bob Bolen land a good coaching job on the East Tennessee State staff, after his prosperous stint at Beckley-based Mountain State was ended by the school's closing.

    Bolen wasn't obscure in coaching circles. Consider ETSU coach Murry Bartow's resume: As son of the late, great Gene Bartow, he served at UAB as either an assistant or head coach from 1989-2002, and has been ETSU's coach from April 2003 to the present. He was a graduate assistant under Bob Knight at Indiana.

    When Murry Bartow had an opening on his staff this spring, he had a large pool of candidates. You know this without asking; that's the way the coaching world works.

    It's not bad to land someone with 487 wins, regardless of level.

    "He's got more wins than all of us combined," Bartow said. "He's a very smart coach, he's a great recruiter and he's a very offensive-minded guy. And he's a guy, I trust all of my staff, certainly lean on Bob very heavily because he's an older guy - him and I are the same age.

    "He's been a critical, critical hire for us."

    I wish Mark Richmond didn't have a blank bio on ETSU's web site, but I have been told the Bucs' director of operations hails from Martinsburg.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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