Slowing Pryor the key for Marshall’s success

Doc Holliday had a close-up view of Tim Tebow at Florida and
watched Pat White set an NCAA career rushing record for
quarterbacks at West Virginia.

Fortunately those playmakers were on his team. Holliday is now a
head coach for the first time and doesn’t want his debut ruined by
a marquee quarterback from the other side of the field.

The excitement of a new season and new coach at Marshall has
been tempered by the thought of where it starts – at the Horseshoe
with No. 2 Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor in charge.

Watching film of Pryor confidently maneuver about in January’s
Rose Bowl caused an uneasy feeling for a Marshall defense that has
allowed big-name quarterbacks to make big plays before.

”He is going to create a major issue for every team that he
plays against this year,” Holliday said.

Marshall had months to prepare for Thursday night’s opener in
Columbus. At times it wasn’t pretty. The Thundering Herd had no one
on the scout team to match Pryor’s athleticism. Heck, Marshall’s
roster wasn’t big enough in some places to fill out the scout teams
to Holliday’s liking.

His answer: Put the first-string offense against the
first-string defense whenever possible.

”For us to mimic Ohio State is very hard. They’ve got
All-Americans at every position,” Holliday said. ”The speed is a
little different.”

And it starts with the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Pryor, who led the
Buckeyes in rushing as a sophomore. He threw for a career 266 yards
and two touchdowns and ran for 72 more in a 26-17 Rose Bowl win
over Oregon.

Holliday, who replaced the fired Mark Snyder, mixed
brainstorming with defensive coordinator Chris Rippon with a ”hope
and pray” attitude of slowing Pryor.

”Starting out when he was a young quarterback, he created a lot
of issues with his feet,” Holliday said. ”But I think he’s grown
up. He’s matured a lot. Not only now can he beat you with his feet,
but he also can beat you with his arm.”

In the week leading up to the game, Holliday, who was a Florida
assistant when the Gators won the 2006 national championship in
Tebow’s freshman season, was constantly asked about comparing Tebow
and Pryor.

Tebow finished his career 35-6 as a starter with two national
titles. So far, Pryor is 19-3.

”I don’t know if you can compare him to Tebow, but they do have
some similarities,” he said. ”They are both big and strong. It is
hard to get them to the ground, and Terrelle does what Tebow does.
He throws the ball down the field well enough and then he can beat
you with his feet. Are they similar? Probably in some ways with
their physical skills.”

Of course, Ohio State’s offense is more than just Pryor. But if
Marshall can limit his game-changing plays, Herd linebacker Mario
Harvey, the team’s leading tackler a year ago, predicts ”it
contributes to a win.”

It’d be the type of victory Marshall hasn’t had in a long time.
Since joining Conference USA in 2005, Marshall is 0-13 against BCS
opponents. Much of that has to do with being worn down.

In 2007, Marshall led West Virginia at halftime before White
engineered a 42-point burst in the second half.

Marshall went scoreless in the second half of losses to West
Virginia last year and to Wisconsin in 2008 and managed just three
second-half points at Virginia Tech last year.

”It’s our job to get them ready,” Holliday said. ”Ohio State
will be, without a doubt, the most talented team we play all
year.”

There’s been plenty of talk about the last meeting between
Marshall and Ohio State in 2004, when Mike Nugent’s 55-yard field
goal as time expired gave the Buckeyes a 24-21 win.

”We can’t live in the past,” said Harvey, one of six returning
starters on defense. ”We’ve got to seize the opportunity right now
and face the task.”