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Focus for Herd shifts to C-USA play

September 27, 2018

HUNTINGTON — There has been very little talk this week about Marshall University’s 37-20 football loss to N.C. State last weekend at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall coaches and players are focused forward, which is the start of Conference USA action.

“I told them last night, you’ve got eight straight weeks — really nine weeks — but you’ve got eight straight games that every game is a championship game,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said Tuesday. “You’ve got to prepare that way. You look around our conference and there’s a lot of people who are just about the same type of team. You have to be prepared every week to go play or you’ll get beat. We have to make sure we do a tremendous job of preparing.”

Marshall (2-1) kicks off C-USA action against Western Kentucky (1-3) in a 7:30 p.m. Saturday matchup at Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Normally, the Hilltoppers have been scheduled to play the Thundering Herd in mid-to late November, but this season the teams are making their C-USA debuts with the rivalry battle, adding to the intensity.

“At the end of the day, it’s your first conference game, so regardless of who it is I would hope you would prepare the way you prepare to go try to win a championship,” Holliday said. “There’s no doubt we’ve had some history with Western Kentucky — and they’re an

excellent football team. I’m sure they are treating it as a rival — I heard their coach say that — they think it’s a rival, so we do, too. We’ll prepare and go play.”

For Marshall’s players it has been instilled in them by coaches and previous players that the game takes on a bit more meaning when the opposing team is donning the gear of Western Kentucky.

“I remember when I was a freshman, (former linebackers) D.J. Hunter and Evan McKelvey and those guys, they made sure to let me know that we don’t like them and they don’t like us,” Marshall linebacker Chase Hancock said. “There’s a mutual level of respect between the two teams.”

While Hancock knows the history between the teams, he said the focus is more on getting off to a good start in conference play with a victory.

“It’s really the beginning of the rest of our journey,” Hancock said. “This is step No. 1. Everything that we work for is still out there for us to accomplish. Western is just the next team.”

Western Kentucky has beaten Marshall in three of four meetings since the Hilltoppers joined C-USA prior to the 2014 season, with the first two wins for the Hilltoppers featuring high stakes.

In 2014, Marshall was undefeated when Western Kentucky came into Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Senior Day and defeated Marshall, 67-66, in overtime to end the Herd’s perfect season.

The following year, Marshall traveled to Bowling Green with the C-USA East Division title on the line and the Hilltoppers earned a 49-28 win before going on to two consecutive conference crowns.

While last season’s 30-23 Marshall victory had no major impact on the C-USA race, it did signal a shift in momentum for the teams as the Herd got the win after falling 60-6 to the Hilltoppers in Huntington the previous year.

A win this year would continue the Herd’s momentum for a second straight year, but, more important, it would be the difference in being 1-0 in C-USA and 0-1.

“Huge, huge,” Hancock said. “This is the next game, so it’s very important that we win, but it’s also the beginning of the conference (schedule). That kind of sets the tone, I feel like. Whether we win or lose, which I hope we win, I think that will dictate the next few weeks, really.”

If history is any indication, the Herd can feel good about its chances Saturday. Under Holliday, Marshall has won six of its eight conference openers.

However, both losses were on the road. In 2010, the Herd lost Holliday’s C-USA debut, 41-16, at Southern Miss. The team won five straight before a 38-21 loss at North Texas in 2016. Last season, Marshall defeated Charlotte, 14-3, in the conference opener on the road.

This is the fourth time in five years Marshall has started C-USA play away from home.

MARSHALL (2-1) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (1-3)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Ky.

TV: Stadium

Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM

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