The Southern Miss/ Marshall rivalry picks back up Saturday when the boys from Huntington, West Virginia make the trip south to Hattiesburg for an always important C-USA battle for both teams. Marshall Coach Doc Holliday is 52-33 overall in his career with the Herd, and this season finds himself in unusual territory. After a strong start to the season and a 62-0 win over Morgan State, the Herd have fallen on difficult times. They now sit at 2-5 overall, and very much are a team in search of answers.
With back-to-back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories – 10 in 2013, 13 in 2014 and 10 in 2015 -- Marshall owns one of the best FBS totals in that three-plus-season span. Currently, only seven FBS teams have more victories since the start of the 2013 season. Also among Group of Five programs, Marshall has the fifth-best winning percentage since the start of the 2014 season.
Yet this season, the Herd have yet to get things figured out, especially on the side of the ball they are usually very strong- defense.
Marshall ranks 100th in the nation in passing defense, giving up 262 yards per game on average, and they are 99th against the run (112.9). In total defense, they are 113th in the nation, and also in scoring defense giving up an average of 36 points per game. That is astonishing when you consider Marshall is usually ranked at the top of the conference every year defensively.
On offense, they've been better but still lack that physical presence typical of the program. QB Chase Litton returns after a solid freshman season and is doing his part. He connected with WR Justin Hunt for a four yard touchdown pass in the first quarter against Charlotte, which extended his touchdown pass streak to 17 games.
They currently rank 49th in scoring offense at 32 points per game.
To gain more insight on the Thundering Herd of Marshall, we talked with Aaron Perkins, publisher of Herdhaven.com with Scout...
Q: Marshall is a very uncharacteristic 2-5 this season. What has been some of the issues with the Herd in your opinion?
"Something is “missing.” I know that sounds cliche, but something is just not clicking. At times, the team looks like a team that no one in the conference can touch, and then something happens, and it stops. Penalties are killing us. We are dead last in the country, over 90 yards per game. Five yards worse than the next team. Turnovers haven’t really cost us much until the Charlotte game, we fumbled going into the end zone on the opening drive of the second half which would have put us up 14. I like our chances at that time."
Q: Marshall always had in the past had a strong defensive line and solid defense. What are the strengths of the defense this season?
"Safeties would probably be the strength right now. The interior defensive line is getting pushed around a bit, as can be seen in our rush defensive stats. The defensive ends, Gary Thompson and Ryan Bee are playing very well. Bee actually broke on the scene early in the game last year against USM with a big blocked field goal. Since that point he has been an NFL caliber defensive end. Lost several potential starting defensive backs. Corey Tindal left early for the NFL. Antavis Rowe who was the starting nickel last year left the team this summer. Antonio “Speedy” Howard left campus at the end of fall semester last year. He is playing in JC now and actually has an offer from Southern Miss. All three should have been starting."
Q: How has Chase Litton and the offense progressed this season?
"Chase Litton is catching a lot of flack, but it is not really warranted. His numbers are very good. Several of his interceptions have been meaningless late game or hail mary type of passes. He has had a couple that hurt, most notably vs Akron and vs North Texas."
Q: Are fans in Huntington still optimistic Marshall can turn this thing around this year?
"Some are, many are not. It is hard to get a gauge. Is the internet a good gauge for the entire fan base? If so, then no, they are not optimistic. Personally I think this is a 2 – 5 group of very talented guys. Notice I didn’t say team. That is what seems to be missing. I fear that the fanbase revolts too much, and eventually become complacent and expect too much from the program."
Q: What will Marshall have to do really well Saturday to come to Hattiesburg and beat Southern Miss?
"Play like they are capable of playing, and stick together. This team is still very talented. This is the same group of players that was projected by many media outlets to win the East. The same group of players that some publications said would be a tough “trap” game for Louisville. This is the same group of players that has been favored in all but two games this year (Louisville and Pitt,) and not just favored, but double digit favorites. The USM game is the first game against a non P5 school that the Herd has not been heavy favorites."