Holliday: Thundering Herd must slow down Pryor

Published 2:07 am Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — 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.

Email newsletter signup

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.”