NCF Nation: Doc Holliday
2. West Virginia's upset of Oklahoma State provided a ray of hope in Morgantown as the Mountaineers prepare to play at No. 17 Baylor, which is 15-1 at home since the beginning 2011. It's no coincidence that the struggles of the Mountaineers coincide with the departure of top recruiter Doc Holliday to become head coach of Marshall three years ago. Holliday is well-known for his ability to recruit in Florida, where the Mountaineers found quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Stedman Bailey. They left last season, and no one as talented has appeared to replace them.
3. The disappearance of tough intersectional games has led to grade inflation at the football stadium. I looked at the Week 6 AP poll for each of the last 10 seasons. From 2004-11, the average number of undefeated teams is a shade under 14. Last season, 18 teams made it to Week 6 without a blemish. This season, it's 17. It must be the disappearance of tough intersectional games. Let's hope that nine-game conference schedules and the College Football Playoff force teams to play up, and do it earlier.
Marshall beat FIU 20-10 in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Tuesday night. Here is a look at how it happened:
How the game was won: Marshall special teams. The Thundering Herd have been excellent all season at blocking kicks, and Tuesday night was no exception. With its offense stalling left and right, Marshall got the big play it needed with 7:35 left in the game. FIU set up to punt from its own 22, but Zach Dunston blocked the kick -- the seventh block of the season for Marshall (three kicks, four punts). The Herd appeared to score on the play, but the touchdown was negated because there was an illegal forward pass. A personal foul call on Tyrone Carper was tacked onto the end of the play. But Marshall was able to stay in field goal range, and Tyler Warner made a 39-yard kick that hit off the inside of the upright to put the Herd ahead. Aaron Dobson caught his second touchdown pass of the game on a fourth-down play with 30 seconds left to ice the game.
Turning point: The block was a huge turning point for Marshall. For FIU -- it was the play of T.Y. Hilton. The Panthers were determined to get him going early, and he had some nice plays -- including their only touchdown of the game. But he bruised his thigh in the first half and was mostly ineffective when he returned to the game in the second half. After Marshall kicked its go-ahead field goal, Hilton had a costly play that ended up being a deciding factor. He fumbled after a catch near midfield with 4:24 remaining, and Marshall recovered. It was his second fumble of the game, though he recovered his first.
Player of the game: Dunston. His blocked kick turned the tide in the game.
What Marshall learned: The Thundering Herd won their seventh bowl game in the last eight appearances, and Doc Holliday led this team to a winning record in his second season. This win is huge for the momentum he is building at program eager to restore its past traditions. Rakeem Cato was inconsistent in the game, but playing as a true freshman can only help next season.
What FIU learned: Without an effective quarterback, it is hard to win games. The Panthers decided to start senior Wesley Carroll, but he struggled. Backup Jake Medlock came in briefly in the fourth quarter but was equally ineffective. They had no downfield passing game, also hurt because of a hobbled Hilton. Now the question that looms is whether FIU coach Mario Cristobal returns next season. He is a candidate at Pitt.
WHO TO WATCH: Hilton. One of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football, Hilton was slowed earlier this year with a hamstring injury but has returned to form. This season, Hilton broke the FIU and Sun Belt career records for receiving yards (3,443), receiving touchdowns (24), all-purpose yards (7,351) and kickoff return yards (2,819). He also was named to the Sun Belt first-team as a receiver, kick returner and all-purpose player. That's as well-rounded as you can get.
WHAT TO WATCH: Quarterback situation. Neither team has the most stable quarterback situation. Marshall will start true freshman Rakeem Cato, who is back in the starting lineup after he got benched midway through the season. With A.J. Graham out because of a shoulder injury, the Herd must rely on Cato to help lead the team to victory. He was great in an overtime win over East Carolina to get Marshall bowl eligible, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent this season (10 interceptions to 13 touchdown passes). Meanwhile, FIU is expected to play both Wes Carroll and Jake Medlock -- coach Mario Cristobal will probably make a game-time decision. Carroll was benched this season as well but played again after Medlock got hurt. Both are healthy going into this game.
WHY TO WATCH: This is your last chance to get a look at Curry before he moves on to the NFL. The C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, Curry has put together back-to-back outstanding seasons. Cristobal says Curry "discombobulates people." That is an astute way of putting it. This season, Curry is tied for third nationally with six forced fumbles, ranks second in tackles for loss (21) and is sixth in sacks (11).
PREDICTION: FIU 28, Marshall 21. Neither team jumps off the page statistically speaking. In fact, Marshall is the only one of the 70 bowl teams to rank 80th or worse in both total offense and total defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. FIU has Hilton, and he makes the difference in this game.
Top prospects: The ESPN Recruiting folks love four-star linebacker Armonze Daniel, writing he is a steal for the Thundering Herd. Of Daniel, they write: “He can stack the run with striking downhill strength as well as match up in space with great athleticism.” Also included in the class are two players who signed with AQ schools last season -- running back Travon Van (Florida) and quarterback/athlete Conelius Jones (Michigan).
Needs met: The Thundering Herd needed help at linebacker and quarterback and seemed to have gotten it. Daniel and Deon Meadows are the stars at linebacker, while Marshall also got Blake Frohnapel and Rakeem Cato at quarterback. Depth on the defensive line also was answered with Jarquez Samuel and Robert Mincey. Marshall loaded up on skill position players as well, something that should definitely help the Thundering Herd, who struggled without a big-time playmaker last season.
Analysis: Coach Doc Holliday has a great reputation as a top recruiter, and he most certainly showed why with this class. Plenty of talent here, and plenty of players coming in from Florida, where he spent several years as an assistant under coach Urban Meyer. Now he has to coach these players up and get Marshall to the top of the East.
But the Herd have no choice at this point, and are hoping a home crowd and national television stage can provide them some momentum when they play UCF tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The Herd have not appeared to be the same since that game. Their lone win came against Ohio, when the Bobcats failed to make a two-point conversion with no time left. In its two losses since the West Virginia game, Marshall has been outscored 85-44. That includes an embarrassing 41-16 loss to Southern Miss in which the Herd had more penalties (12) than first downs (11) and gained just 170 total yards.
Quarterback Brian Anderson was pulled after going 4-of-13 for 16 yards in the first half. Though A.J. Graham was better, he hurt his ankle and Anderson will start against the Knights.
Perhaps fans can take some measure of solace in knowing Anderson plays better at home. In two home games this season, he is 41-of-59 for 524 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
But the bottom line is the Marshall offense has been mediocre, and the Herd have struggled to establish a running game. They rank No. 106 in the nation in total yards, averaging just 300 yards a game, and are 105 in rushing offense. A shaky quarterback and shaky run game have kept point production down, too, as Marshall ranks No. 100 in scoring offense, averaging 19.2 points a game.
“We spend a lot of time in that meeting room to find ways for our offense to be successful,” Holliday said. “We all know being one-dimensional is not one of those ways. Believe me, we are working extremely hard and spending a lot of time trying to find the best way to run the football. It comes down to blocking and we’ve got to do a better job of doing that.”
About the only highlight has been the play of Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey on defense. Curry leads the nation with eight sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Harvey leads the nation with an average of 13 tackles a game, and also has four sacks. Putting pressure on quarterbacks Jeffrey Godfrey and Rob Calabrese is going to be a huge goal.
Marshall has yet to beat UCF in Conference USA play, dating to 2005, and is still smarting from a 21-20 loss last season in which the Knights came back to win with 23 seconds left. The Herd has plenty to get them motivated.
“This game concerns me,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “It’s a big game up there. There’s not a lot of love there, more so on Marshall’s part than our part. It will be an interesting game. I don’t think there will be a lot of handshakes. As I told our team, just take out the West Virginia film. That’s the kind of capabilities they have and I think that’s the effort that we’ll get.”
The Mountaineers trailed 21-6, and Marshall had the ball inside their 5 with 8:28 left. A score probably would have ended things.
Led by impressive sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, the Mountaineers mounted two long touchdown drives and a two-point conversion to tie things up with just seconds left. Then Tyler Bitancurt nailed a field goal in overtime and Marshall missed its field-goal try, giving No. 23 West Virginia a 24-21 victory. Mountaineers fans everywhere -- and the Big East -- could exhale.
How about Smith? West Virginia had to go 98 yards with a little more than three minutes left and one timeout to get the tying score. He floated a beautiful pass to Will Johnson in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown and found Jock Sanders in the back of the end zone for the two-pointer. Smith showed amazing poise for a sophomore making his second college start, and he looks like a star in the making.
That is, if his offensive line can give him protection. West Virginia almost lost because Marshall's defense eviscerated their offensive line, hurrying and hitting Smith often. That unit was completely exposed by former West Virginia assistant Doc Holliday's new team, and the Mountaineer won't go far if they don't start blocking better.
There was a lot not to like about the Mountaineers' performance. Too many penalties. Turnovers. Marshall often looked better-prepared and far hungrier.
But the bottom line is that West Virginia won, and thankfully for Stewart. His fan base would have roasted him for being the first coach to lose to Marshall in school history. There will still be a lot of grumbling in the days to come, but he and his team live to fight another day. Their goal of returning to the 10-win plateau looks shakier now, especially with Maryland and LSU coming up.
At least they escaped to get to 2-0. And at least the Big East didn't suffer another embarrassing loss.
But when the Friends of Coal Bowl kicks off Friday night (ESPN, 7 ET), it will lack the bite of most bitter in-state showdowns. Part of the reason is that it has been so one-sided; West Virginia has never lost to the Thundering Herd and has won the past four meetings by an average of nearly 25 points. And the series doesn't have as much history as you might expect -- the teams have only played five times since 1923.
There are many Mountaineers fans who see this as a ho-hum kind of game. I asked on Twitter recently whether West Virginia fans wanted the series to continue, and the majority of those who responded said either no, or not with the game making regular stops in Huntington.
The current series contract ends in 2012, and this is the last year that Marshall has a scheduled home game between the two. Gov. Joe Manchin has been an ardent supporter of extending the series, but West Virginia is demanding a 2-for-1 deal, while the Thundering Herd wants a home-and-home contract. There's a good chance that even if the schools reach another deal that they might not play every year.
West Virginia coaches and players have used the 'R' word this week to describe this game, however.
"Yeah, it's a rivalry," cornerback Brandon Hogan said. "It's in-state and not too far away from us. I feel like we owe it to the guys on the team from West Virginia to not have a loss in this rivalry game."
"It’s all about state pride," running back Noel Devine said. "It means a lot to people here."
Adding interest to this year's game is the coaching connection. New Marshall head coach Doc Holliday was a longtime West Virginia assistant. When Bill Stewart got promoted to full-time coach after the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, he sacrificed some of his salary to bring Holliday aboard as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for a $400,000 salary. The ties between Stewart and Holliday extend almost 40 years.
"I put a lot of trust in him and confidence in him," Stewart said. "He has been a confidant for me. We're tremendous friends and I wish him nothing but the best, but I want to beat him."
Still, there were some hurt feelings inside the Mountaineers program when Holliday left and tried to recruit players to Marshall that he had been pursuing as a West Virginia assistant. Holliday also knows the West Virginia personnel, schemes and secrets as well as anyone. But Stewart says that is no big deal, and that the Mountaineers have changed all their sideline hand signals.
"The playing is done by the men in the arena," Stewart said. "The guys on the sidelines have direction over that. But when it comes down to blocking and tackling and young men playing hard and straining and all the intangibles of playing football, that's usually done by the guys on the field, not off it."
Besides, Holliday might know how West Virginia likes to hand off to Devine, but that doesn't mean his players can stop it. In his debut as head coach, the Thundering Herd lost 45-7 at Ohio State. The Herd did not score a point on offense while giving up 529 yards.
"Looking at the film, they made a few mistakes in the secondary," West Virginia receiver Jock Sanders said. "Their secondary is not their strength. Their defensive
line and their linebackers are their strength. We’ll have to exploit the secondary with the things that we do with our offense."
The Mountaineers are heavy favorites to win the Coal Bowl yet again. It will take a great effort for Marshall to reverse history -- and to inject some life into this rivalry that's not quite a rivalry.
The Utes put the "U" in ugly during win, writes Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune.
It appears Sun Belt officials blew a crucial call late in Middle Tennessee's loss to Minnesota.
Still, there was plenty to build on for the Blue Raiders, playing without Dwight Dasher.
Is South Carolina that good, Southern Miss that bad, or a combination of both?
Idaho posted its first shutout since 1997.
Colin Kaepernick said he played just average in Nevada's win.
Ball State easily won its opener.
Dan Enos won his opener at Central Michigan, the school's first opening-game shutout since 1979. Ryan Radcliff went 20-of-34 for 242 yards and a touchdown.
Spencer Keith had his first three-TD game in Kent State's opener against Murray State.
Jerry Davis proved he has a good grasp of Buffalo's new offense in a win against Rhode Island.
FAU rallied from a 16-point deficit to stun UAB in Birmingham. Included in the comeback was a last-second blocked field goal to preserve the victory.
Plenty for Doc Holliday and Marshall to learn after their 45-7 loss to Ohio State.
Many concerns for Northern Illinois after losing to Iowa State.
Southeastern Louisiana gave Tulane all it could handle.
Hawaii came oh-so-close to USC, but its defense could not get the job done.
Meanwhile, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he "screwed up" in the Fiesta Bowl for allowing his team too many distractions. Players are having their cell phones taken away Friday night to prevent any distractions before Oregon State.
And as a reward for making it this far, I give you a must-read Washington Post magazine feature on Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs.
Other conference links:
And make no mistake: The BCS title is the goal for the Buckeyes this season. Head coach Jim Tressel returns one of his most complete teams, and after winning or sharing five consecutive Big Ten championships and winning the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, the next step is rather obvious.
There's a ton of anticipation for this Buckeyes season. I saw people wearing Ohio State jerseys at Midway Airport Thursday morning in Chicago, more Ohio State jerseys after I landed in Chicago and even a few more when I grabbed lunch at Chipotle near my hotel. The Buckeyes are everything in this town, and the anticipation for the season is very noticeable.
These two teams had better be in shape because its very hot tonight. The temperature will be in the high 80s around kickoff and not drop much during the game, maybe 10 degrees. It was very balmy walking to the stadium from the new media parking lot, in a tie, no less. Rain is on the way, but not until early Friday.
Marshall is an interesting first opponent for the Buckeyes. The Thundering Herd return 13 starters but have new systems on both sides of the ball as the Doc Holliday era begins. Senior quarterback Brian Anderson isn't an ideal fit for the spread offense, but the Herd plan to stick with the veteran.
Unless Ohio State stumbles out of the gate, most of my attention Thursday night will be on Buckeyes junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Will he take the next step or continue to be inconsistent like he was for much of his sophomore season? I'm also interested to see who emerges at running back, and how young defenders like John Simon and C.J. Barnett perform. Safety/linebacker Tyler Moeller's return to the field also should be pretty special.
We've waited for months, and the season is finally here. Time to get excited. You know I am.
Central Florida redshirt freshman running back Brendan Kelly believes the Knights rushing attack will still be strong even without Brynn Harvey.
Houston aims to be four games better than it was a year ago.
The Detroit News broke down the challenges its three state schools from the Mid-American Conference are facing this year.
The Idaho Statesman takes an early look at Boise State opponent Oregon State.
Hurricane, W.V., now announces itself as the home of current Marshall football coach Doc Holliday.
First-year coach Doc Holliday decided to part ways with the junior after he was involved in an incident with Huntington police last week.
“T.J. Drakeford has been dismissed from the Marshall football team due to a team rules violation,” Holliday said in a statement released by the school.Drakeford was arrested for two misdemeanors -- battery on a police officer after he allegedly pushed a cop in the chest and obstructing justice.
Teammate DeQuan Bembry also was involved in the incident. He was arrested for assault on a police officer and public intoxication, both misdemeanors.
Bembry, who’s had trouble with the law in the past, remains indefinitely suspended from the football team.
Last May, Bembry was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver with former teammate Darius Marshall.
In March 2009, Bembry was arrested and charged with misdemeanor public intoxication.
Bembry was suspended the first game of the 2009 season, but went on to lead the team with three interceptions. He also had 53 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
"They have let their team down, their coaches down, our fans down and the Huntington community down,” Holliday said in a statement regarding Bembry and defensive back T. J. Drakeford, who was accused of striking an officer in the chest.
“I am extremely disappointed in their actions and the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken once I have all the facts.”
Holliday’s is the second first-year non-AQ coach in the past week to deal with a player’s legal issues. East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill dismissed Brandon Jackson after the running back was charged with underage consumption of alcohol, intoxication and simple affray. Similar to Bembry, it was Jackson’s third arrest.
The school has not yet announced what punishments have been levied on either Bembry or Drakeford.
New Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is opening spring football today with no depth chart and an open mind.
The quarterback battle between Kelly Page and Aaron Mershman is highlighting Ball State’s spring.
North Texas is focusing on building depth on the offensive line this spring.
Fresno State coach Pat Hill was supposed to get a contract extension Dec. 13, but that extension still hasn’t been put to paper.
UNLV true freshman defensive tackle Nate Holloway is working his way into the starting lineup this spring.
Strongest position: Wide receiver
Key returners: Sophomore Antavious Wilson (60 catches for 724 yards and three touchdowns), senior Chuck Walker (33 catches, 350 yards and three touchdowns), sophomore Aaron Dobson (15 catches, 362 yards, four touchdowns), senior Lee Smith (23 catches, 335 yards), sophomore Jamal Wilson (17 catches, 128 yards)
Key departures: Cody Slate (50 catches, 607 yards, four touchdowns)
The skinny: Slate was a big part of the Marshall offense, but when he suffered a season-ending injury, the Thundering Herd discovered a lot of new weapons. Antavious Wilson has established himself as the top receiver and Walker and Dobson complete what could be a really nice starting receiving corps. There is a lot of young talent on this team and that could make the coaching transition a little easier.
Weakest position: Kicker
Key returners: Junior Tyler Warner (hit 3 of 5 field goal attempts in 2008 and was selected to the 2008 Conference USA All-Freshman team)
Key departures: Craig Ratanamorn (made 22 of 28 field goal attempts during his career)
The skinny: When Doc Holliday took over at Marshall in December, he said his immediate recruiting concern was securing a kicker. Warner didn’t see the field last year because he was inconsistent when battling Ratanamorn for the starting role. Warner will have a chance to secure the starting role this spring, but he’ll have to fend off true freshman Justin Haig in the fall.
Central Florida Knights
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The Knights will need to develop offensive line talent after allowing 2.54 sacks per game and failing to block for a rushing offense that ranked 82nd in the country. The Knights return all but two offensive linemen and have one coming in the spring.
- The quarterback battle will heat up with early enrollee Jeffrey Godfrey, who already has impressed coach George O’Leary. Godfrey will compete against Rob Calabrese for the starting role.
- The Knights will have to find replacements for three key members of the defensive line -- DE Jarvis Geathers, RT Torrell Troup, LT Travis Timmons. The defense was the main reason the Knights finished 8-5 and won their final five games.
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- With a new coach, a new system, and a crop of new starters, East Carolina will have its work cut out for it this spring. New head coach Ruffin McNeill needs to replace 15 players with starting experience, which won’t be easy with just a month to work.
- The most underrated positions the Pirates have to fill are punter and kicker. All-American Matt Dodge is gone as is kicker Ben Hartman, who set the school record for career scoring. Finding replacements for those two is a top priority.
- New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be implement Texas Tech’s offensive system with just two scholarship quarterbacks and a team that relied on its running game. Riley is confident he can install all of his spread offense this fall, but there’s no telling how quickly the Pirates will pick it up.
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The one thing that really kept Houston from an undefeated season was its defense. Brian Stewart, who was named the defensive coordinator in January, inherits a young team with a lot of talent, but he has some work to do to catch the defense up to the offense by September.
- Quarterback Case Keenum returns for his senior season, but his center, Carl Barnett, does not. Barnett started 39 games, so Keenum will have to establish a good rapport with his new center this spring. Blake Sargent, who was the backup last year, appears to be the front-runner.
- Even though the Cougars did not lose many starters on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin will look for more athletic players to rotate into the mix. Last season, 19 players had at least one catch and 12 had double-digit catches.