HUNTINGTON - Marshall coach Doc Holliday wouldn't sell his soul for a rushing touchdown, but he has invested considerable energy trying to get his offense to find the end zone.
With a tough first half of the season behind it, Holliday's Thundering Herd launches its second-half run against Rice at 3 p.m. today in Marshall's 110th homecoming game.
The big question hovering over Joan C. Edwards Stadium is whether the Herd offense can get untracked against six defenses that rank comfortably below the first six defenses on the schedule.
Funny thing is, for all the coachspeak about defense, defense, defense, you still can't win if you don't score. Marshall (2-4 overall, 1-1 Conference USA) has seven offensive touchdowns in six games, zero on the ground.
"I'm not happy at all where our offense is. I'm not. We have to get better," Holliday said. "Defensively, four of the six teams we've played are in the top 18 in the country. Not in the conference, in the country.
"It's not an excuse. We simply have to get better. We have to make plays and, yes, we've lined up against some good teams just like Rice has. Unfortunately, we're both where we are and we both have to win football games."
Rice will be the eighth team from the state of Texas to play in Huntington, and all have gone home disappointed. But the Owls (2-3, 1-1) arrive with momentum after a 28-6 win last week at Memphis.
"The vibe around here is positive. We have two quality wins, we feel like [including one vs. Purdue]," said Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue. "We need to move ahead in the conference, build on the stuff that was presented to us in those first four challenging games."
The Owls don't carry overwhelming numbers offensively, but they will pose a mental challenge for a Herd defense that likely will have Vinny Curry. The star end went home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral, but returned Friday.
"They are as diversified as any team you're going to see," said Chris Rippon, MU's defensive coordinator. "There are parts of everything that they've got going. And they jump all over the place.
"They're going to be in a tight end and three wides and a back, and then all of a sudden they split this big tight end out and throw him passes they normally throw to wideouts. And then they've got two backs and then they've got two backs in the wildcat concept.
"And they come in with '12', two tight ends. They're an option team, they're a perimeter team, a lot of boots and nakeds. They try to put you in a situation where it's one-on-one."
MU's defense played Central Florida well enough to win last week, by Conference USA standards. But the Herd offense mustered just 130 total yards and six first downs and no offensive touchdowns in a nonstop rain, against a nonstop UCF defense.