Owls, Kirksville desperately seeking win
There's no question that the Marshall football program needs a massive overhaul.
That task is one made more difficult for new head coach Adam Huse by a rugged early-season schedule which began with Chillicothe -- ranked fourth in the latest Class 3 poll -- a Smith-Cotton club coming off a Class 5 playoff appearance and NCMC title contender Mexico.
"The biggest thing is get our kids to understand and believe in what we're doing," Huse admitted, "try to see the baby steps ... of things going correctly."
For example, during the Owls' 55-14 loss at Mexico last week, "you take six plays away where we did not do our jobs, where one person didn't do his job, and there are six touchdowns on the board," Huse explained. "On the offensive side, the same thing -- and you're talking about a completely different ball game."
It's the little things that matter in football, which some describe as a "game of inches." Winning teams usually get those right; losing clubs seldom do.
"It's getting our kids to understand we're close," Huse said. "Getting over that hump is huge. It's going to take time, but we're going to get there."
One area of improvement has been Marshall's inside run defense, which over the last few years has been porous. Opponents are still getting yardage on the ground, but not so easily between the tackles -- a tribute to the improvements made by sophomore middle linebacker Ethan Stickels and junior safety Duffin Makings, in particular.
Fortunately for the Owls, they host an opponent this week who is also struggling: NCMC rival Kirksville. After falling behind the Tigers 39-0 in the first half last year, Marshall rallied after the break to reduce the margin of loss to 42-20.
"I think our kids will have a little more confidence going into this week because they're not playing somebody who's a ton bigger than them" physically, Huse said. Chillicothe had much more size, Smith-Cotton had more quickness up front and Mexico was both bigger and quicker than the Owls (0-3, 0-1 NCMC).
What Marshall has to avoid is being burned by the Tigers' misdirection offense, which a year ago piled up 276 rushing yards -- 137 on a mere two carries by now-senior Blake Lewis.
"It's all about getting your eyes where they're supposed to be," Huse noted. "We've emphasized that every day this week in practice: getting our eyes in the right spot, our feet in the right spot."
The Owls passed for 170 yards against Kirksville (0-3, 0-1) in last year's meeting, but senior quarterback John Haug will be out this time around -- with freshman brother Ben Haug taking over. Of greater concern is a running game that has produced negative yardage in two of the three games this season.
"We have to" get a running game going, Huse conceded. Although he wants to rewrite the school's passing record book -- hardly a daunting challenge for a program coached by Cecil "Run 36" Naylor for 35 years -- teams that can't run seldom win.
"I love our kids to death, but they're not the most football-smart kids -- it doesn't come natural to them -- so we were going through some things with our offensive line [this week] that we had a little epiphany, their eyes popped open a little bit," Huse said. "Coming from the program I came from, maybe I took some of those things for granted."
Huse hopes simplifying the run game by focusing on basics will produce better results.
Besides being a league contest, it also a clash between Class 4, District 7 foes -- with Marshall one spot ahead of the Tigers due to the strength of its schedule and the bonus points gained by moving up in class to play Smith-Cotton. In other words, a win would be big for both teams.
"The ideal is to be in the top four in the district and host that playoff game," Huse said, although that's unlikely this season. Still, "any time you can not match up with that No. 1 seed it's a big thing.
"We have to come in and execute," he added. "If we can execute, we can make that happen."
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