Florida Atlantic Marshall Football

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday leads the players on to the field for a game against Florida Atlantic in October.

It really doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the field, Marshall football coach Doc Holliday said that being on the field is all that really matters.

“We’re anxious to go play a game again after a week off,” he said.

The Thundering Herd are nationally ranked, 16th in this week’s Associated Press poll and 15th in the Amway/USA Today Coaches Poll. The AP ranking is the highest Marshall has been since Sept. 8, 2002, when Tom Brady’s current offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was quarterbacking the program.

Marshall comes into Saturday’s home game with a 5-0 record and a 3-0 mark in Conference USA. Marshall enters this weekend as the only undefeated team in the conference. The Thundering Herd lead the East Division by a game over 2-1 Florida Atlantic, a team they beat 20-9 two weeks ago.

UMass is facing a team that has only three losing seasons — 2010, 2012, 2016 — in the last decade, and is coming off three straight winning campaigns. The Minutemen, on the other hand, have yet to reach .500 since moving up to Division I-FBS football, and lost 41-0 in the 2020 season opener at Georgia Southern.

With a win, Marshall could move up in the AP poll, and could be in the top 15 for the first time since 1999. That year, with Heisman finalist Chad Pennington under center, Marshall was 13-0 and finished the season ranked 10th.

So Holliday, who is in his 11th season in Huntington, W. Va., was asked about the game and if a nationally-ranked team will be looking past a squad with UMass’ resume.

“I think, No. 1, I tell our kids every week that you guys are going to pick up the paper or whatever it is that you pick up, ESPN or whatever, and somebody’s going to get beat that shouldn’t. It happens every weekend. It happened last weekend. It’s going to happen this weekend. You have to make sure it’s not you,” Holliday said on a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “There’s no question, the most prepared team always wins. That being said, we have to make sure we’re the most prepared football team. This game, you can’t play by going out there and just kicking off the ball.

“You better be prepared to play the game or you’ll get beat. Hopefully, we’ll do a great job of making sure our kids understand that.”

While UMass has been plugging opponents into a truncated 2020 football schedule, Marshall has had different issues.

As a Conference USA member, Marshall has had a full conference schedule heading into the season. Early on, Marshall lost a non-conference game against East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference. Then it had C-USA games against Rice and Florida International postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither of those games have been rescheduled yet.

One of the anomalies of this season is that this isn’t the first time Marshall has played a team with only one game under its belt. It is, of course, unusual that in the 11th week of the college football season this would transpire. What might make things more difficult for Holliday and his staff is that UMass’ first game was against the triple-option Eagles. It has forced the Thundering Herd staff to do a deep dive into the past coaching stops of UMass head coach Walt Bell and the coordinators on the Minuteman staff.

“There’s no question,” said Holliday, in response to a question about using the Georgia Southern tape to prepare for UMass. “We had to go way back to when their [offensive] coordinator [Angelo Mirando] was at Eastern Kentucky, and other places these coaches have been; Florida State [Bell], South Florida, etc., to get an idea of what we’re going to get. I sound like a broken record, but here we are with unknowns again for this game here because they have the one game.

“We’ll go back and study and work hard and make sure we’re prepared. Early on, there are going to have to be a lot of adjustments that have to be made on both sides of the ball.”

This is how Marshall’s season had gone so far.

The Herd were supposed to open in Week Zero against East Carolina, but that game was postponed. Marshall hosted Eastern Kentucky and then lost a non-conference game against Pitt. When the Mid-American Conference cancelled football (since restored), Marshall lost a game against Ohio, replacing the Bobcats with Appalachian State. A Sept. 26 home game against Boise State was cancelled when the Mountain West decided not to play. The Mountain West has also restored football.

“We got a call on Tuesday, Wednesday last week. You were preparing for FIU, and bang, it’s done and you have to get ready again,” Holliday said. “You have to give them a couple days, not off, but where we didn’t actually practice. I’ve said it a thousand times, we’ve got to control what we can control.

“The FIU game was cancelled, and fortunately, UMass is coming to town.”

Howard Herman can be reached at

hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.