Herd must play within itself, ‘do their job’
HUNTINGTON — Whether old or young, football bowl season is an exciting time for players.
For older players, it might be their last time putting on a uniform. For younger players, it might be their first time in a bowl game. For all players, it’s a final chance to put a stamp on the season.
Marshall University players this week are talking about not forgetting exactly what got them in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Marshall (8-4) plays the University of South Florida (7-5).
“Everybody just has to do their job,” Marshall cornerback Kereon Merrell said. “I feel like if we do what we did in previous weeks, we’ll be fine.”
From a team standpoint, bowls can be tricky for coaches and players to navigate. There is the excitement of playing in a marquee game and there is the finality of ending the season and wanting to go out on top.
Bowl games tend to take on a loose atmosphere because of the events going on around them, along with coaching staffs generally opening up the playbook to let it all hang out, so to speak.
However, there is a certain level of pressure with bowl games, too.
From a team perspective, every coach wants to end the season with a win to propel them into the offseason. In the case of Marshall, there is also the pressure of a six-bowl-game winning streak—including all five under head coach Doc Holliday — while putting together the nation’s top bowl mark at 11-3 all-time.
There are also individual pressures. Each player wants to leave their mark on the contest, and the seniors want to make a lasting impression on NFL scouts.
All those factors can cause players to try to elevate their individual play, which can cause havoc if it interferes with team concepts.
Merrell said the key is to stay disciplined and work as one unit instead of as 11 individuals.
“As a defense, we trust each other to know that if my brother is supposed to be in his gap, I know my brother is going to be in his gap,” Merrell said. “That’s the biggest thing: having that trust.”
Instead of trying to make home-run plays offensively, Marshall will look to take what is given to keep the unit moving.
If big-play opportunities present themselves, the Herd is going to look to capitalize, but not at the expense of risking turnovers or getting behind the first-down sticks.
“I just feel like we’ve got a lot of matchups all over the place that we can go to,” Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green said.
Part of Holliday’s success in his Marshall years has been bowl preparation and execution.
Five games, five victories — two of them in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area: the 2011 Beef O’ Brady Bowl and the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, both played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Holliday’s emphasis in bowl preparation is the best team will win. That means playing as a team for 60 minutes.
MARSHALL (8-4) vs. SOUTH FLORIDA (7-5)
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM