In the everyday challenges to college football teams during the coronavirus pandemic, Marshall coach Doc Holliday has seen a recurring problem — scouting opponents who have played only one game.
It happened before No. 16 Marshall played Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic earlier in the season. On Saturday the Thundering Herd (5-0) will have had little film to study when it meets FBS independent Massachusetts (0-1).
The Minutemen canceled their season on Aug. 11 due to concerns surrounding the pandemic, only to revive it a month later with plans for a limited schedule. UMass lost 41-0 at Georgia Southern on Oct. 17.
That's been it.
“I know I sound like a broken record,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “There are a lot of unknowns for this game.”
At least the teams are getting back on the field. Seven other contests on the Thundering Herd’s schedule were called off due to the virus, including last week at Florida International. Two of the postponements have been rescheduled for December.
“Our kids are just damn happy when they get a chance to play,” Holliday said.
Running back Brenden Knox called the postponements "a blessing in disguise" because they give players more time to heal, hit the classroom and training room as well as getting ready for the next opponent.
“At this point in the season, the biggest thing is just preparation and how healthy can you stay," Knox said. "Across the board when you get extra days like that, everybody tends to eat that up.”
UMass coach Walt Bell is more concerned about getting his players to improve each week than who the competition is. Bell is 1-12 in two seasons.
He was the wide receivers coach at Southern Miss in 2011 when the Golden Eagles went 11-2 and won the Conference USA championship. One of those losses was to a three-win UAB team. The other loss came at Marshall.
“To me, the focus is always on us,” Bell said.
In addition to playing at Marshall, UMass has another ranked team on its three-game schedule, a visit to No. 25 Liberty on Nov. 27.
Some other things to know about the Minutemen and Marshall:
To say that Marshall linebacker Tavante Beckett has been in the right place at the right time this season might be an understatement. The senior has had three impressive games, making 13 tackles against Florida Atlantic, 16 against Appalachian State, and eight tackles and three fumble recoveries against Western Kentucky. One of the recoveries was turned into a touchdown.
HARD TO KNOX DOWN
Knox is 11th in the Bowl Subdivision at 111 yards per game and will have a chance to improve his stats Saturday. UMass allowed 308 rushing yards in a 41-0 loss to Georgia State on Oct. 17.
UMass has 41 true or redshirt freshmen on its roster. While Wells is hoping some will develop into solid players in the long term, he doesn't want to wait that long.
“I hope the dividends are a little more immediate than that,” he said. “I’d love for it to pay off Saturday.”
Marshall’s ranking in the AP poll is its highest since September 2002, when the Thundering Herd also reached No. 16. The school’s highest-ever ranking was No. 10 to finish the 1999 season.
“We know we're not going to underestimate anybody,” Marshall linebacker Eli Neal said.
REMEMBERING THE CRASH
November will always be a time of remembrance at Marshall. Especially in 2020. Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the worst sports disaster in U.S. history.
On Nov. 14, 1970, a plane carrying the Marshall team and supporters that was returning from a game at East Carolina crashed on approach to the airport, killing all 75 on board, including 36 players.