By GARY FAUBER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Marshall has proven to be a second half team under coach Doc Holliday.
Not the last 30 minutes of a game. Rather, the final six games of a season.
Just as they were at this point last season, the Thundering Herd are 2-4 through the first half of 2012. That includes a 1-1 record in Conference USA — just like last year.
But each of Holliday’s first two seasons saw Marshall finish with four wins in its final six regular season games. The Herd finished 5-7 in 2010, but improved to 7-6 last year, earning a bowl bid that turned out to be a win over Florida International in the St. Petersburg Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
To hear quarterback Rakeem Cato talk, nothing short of a 6-0 run will be acceptable.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I’ve never been a loser in my life. I’ve always had the passion for winning and I know all the players on our team do.
“We have to stop saying that we will get them next series or on the next drive. It’s time right now. We have to start winning now.
“We have no more room for losing at all.”
The Herd has a well-placed bye week before visiting Southern Miss on Oct. 20. Holliday said he will give the players a few days off before getting back to work.
There will be plenty of time to focus on the Golden Eagles, who have struggled to an 0-5 start under first-year coach Ellis Johnson. More pressing for now, however, will be working on finding a way to improve a few areas that have contributed to the Herd’s two-win start.
• Stopping the run. Marshall is 10th in C-USA against the run, allowing 229 rushing yards per game. Tulsa ran for 250 against the Herd, carrying on 53 of 70 total offensive plays.
• Turnovers. The Herd has turned the ball over 12 times — six fumbles, six interceptions — and has gained just five. The turnovers have often proved deadly — two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries have been returned for touchdowns.
• Finishing. In order to be taken seriously as a true conference contender, Marshall has to win the close games. True, the Herd did survive an overtime shootout at Rice, but the loss to Ohio was decided by a Bobcat interception in the end zone, and the Herd could have tied the game against Tulsa but turned the ball over on downs twice in the final 3:32.
“(The players) fight and get after it, but it’s all about winning football games,” Holliday said. “Here at Marshall, we expect to win those games. We have to find a way to finish games and find a way to win in the end. We didn’t do that today.”
Cato, only a sophomore, is taking it upon himself to get the players all on the same page.
“We have to win not only for ourselves, but for the (fans),” Cato said. Win for the people in the stands. They don’t have to come to our games. We are doing this for them. I don’t think people realize that. We play for the ‘M’ on the side of our helmets. Sooner or later we have to win. We have to win for those people or they aren’t going to come to our games.”
“Our whole side (East Division) is still wide open,” Holliday said. “We start with Southern Miss in two weeks and go right down the line. These are good kids. They are going to come back, they are going to go to work and work extremely hard. We’ve got a lot of football left to play.”
— E-mail: gfauber@