Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 15, 2011

Marshall looks to cook Rice for homecoming

BLUEFIELD — Marshall hopes to fry some Rice today for as part of its homecoming feast.

The Thundering Herd returns to Joan C. Edwards Stadium today to face the Owls in a Conference USA contest slated for a 3 p.m. kickoff.

Both Marshall (2-4, 1-1) and Rice (2-3, 1-1) have faced a difficult early schedule full of ranked clubs, with the Herd beating Louisville, but losing to West Virginia and Virginia Tech, while the Owls defeated Purdue, but fell to Texas and Baylor.

They have faced one similar foe, with the Herd defeating C-USA East Division favorite Southern Miss 26-20, while the Owls fell 48-24 to the Golden Eagles.

Despite the difficulty of its early slate, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday isn’t pleased with his offense that is ranked 99th or worst in four major categories.

His solution this week is to bench struggling freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato and give the ball to A.J. Graham.

“I'm not happy at all where our offense is. I'm not. We have to get better. Defensively, four of the six teams we've played are in the top 18 in the country.” Holliday said. “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.”

Marshall has reached the midway point of the season with a 2-4 record. A similar second half means the Herd can forget about any bowl consideration.

Getting back on track after last week’s 16-6 loss at Central Florida makes this a must win over Marshall, which has to travel next week to unbeaten and high-scoring Houston.

“For homecoming we have a team coming in here that is very similar to us...,” Holliday said. “They've played a very challenging schedule and have wins over Memphis and over Purdue. They are in the same boat we are, we both need a win. We'll have a great week of preparation.”

Rice is 2-3, but Holliday looks at their losses, which have been to Texas, Baylor and Southern Miss. The Owls are led on offense by tailback Taylor Smith, quarterback Taylor McHargue and receivers Luke Wilson and Vance McDonald.

Sam McGuffie, a transfer from Michigan, is also on Holliday’s radar.

“One thing about this football team is that they are a lot better than what people think they are. Don't look at the record, look at who they've played,” Holliday said. “We will have our hands full. I think anytime you're located in Texas, you'll have athletes.

“They have a tailback, Sam McGuffie, that started at Michigan as a freshman. David Bell does a great job coaching them. They are well coached and extremely physical. Again, we have to have a great week of practice and preparation. Then we'll be ready to go.”

Marshall has struggled during Holliday’s one-plus year tenure with trying to run the football. Tron Martinez leads the Herd with 309 yards, while highly-touted Travon Van has just 167.

Perhaps this is the game it happens. Marshall is ranked 113th in the nation rushing, while the Owls are 119th in stopping the run.

“Well, just like us they lined up against good teams to start the season...,” said Holliday, in finding reasons for rushing struggles for both clubs. “Texas has better athletes than Rice. Baylor is an excellent football team. It's hard to gauge how good Rice is because of who they've played.

“They've played a heck of a schedule. I think they've played the sixth toughest schedule in America at this point. That's not an easy thing to do. They are a lot better than what people give them credit for because of who they've played.”

Graham has thrown just eight passes this season, completing two for 43 yards. He will replace Cato, who has thrown for 1,074 and seven scores, but also has seven interceptions. Aaron Dobson has 24 receptions for the Herd.

Graham started on occasion last season, but missed much of the season with an ankle injury. Vinny Curry paces the Marshall defense with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss.

Holliday is concerned about the Owls, but their prescription for winning is the same as what he wants it to be for the Herd.

“They create a lot of issues for you offensively because they have an option phase in their offense; they can throw the ball, they have a lot of quarterback runs incorporated into their offense and present a lot of issues by using different formations,” Holliday said. “The thing they do excellent is that they play extremely hard.

“They line up, play very physical and play very hard.”

Scott Solomon has four sacks and seven tackles for negative yards for the Rice defense.

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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