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Marshall University Football vs Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic cornerback Meiko Dotson, left, moves in as Marshall running back Brenden Knox picks up yards during a Conference USA football game Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in Boca Raton, Fla.

HUNTINGTON — If there’s one thing Floridian athletes are known for, it is their speed.

No one knows that better than Marshall head coach Doc Holliday, who has made his name over the years by coaching up some of the Sunshine State’s top talent.

As Marshall prepares for its 2:30 p.m. contest against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, speed takes on a whole new meaning.

Not only do the Owls have plenty of speedy athletes that grab the attention of coaches on film, but they also operate their offense with tempo, which is something Marshall’s defense has to account for on Saturday.

“They play with a little bit of pace,” Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert said. “The tempo will be up. We will have a little bit faster pace this week. And then they try to get you out of position. They try to motion and get your eyes distracted and hit you with a quarterback run or the ball out on the perimeter.”

Eye discipline was one aspect Lambert lauded his group for in their strong early start to the season, which has featured some dominant defensive performances. The ability to read and react will be heightened this week against a Florida Atlantic team that uses tempo and deception as keys to its big-play offense.

Marshall’s team saw a small portion of tempo last week in its contest against Louisiana Tech, but this week’s practice has entailed much more as the Thundering Herd prepares for what it will see on Saturday.

“We had to practice with tempo and make sure we knew that, if our guys were on the field and had to stay on the field, these are things we’re going to do,” Lambert said.

One of the keys for Marshall’s defense in 2020 has been the rotation of players that Lambert and the defensive staff have incorporated. It was one that Holliday discussed at length during his weekly press conference.

“I don’t think there was a defensive lineman ... that played more than 30 snaps in that game,” Holliday said. “We roll those guys in and out of there and keep them fresh.”

Against a team like Florida Atlantic, those constant substitutions become a little more difficult due to the tempo of the Owls offense, but Lambert and his defensive staff were working this week to ensure the team was prepared. Lambert added that there has to be constant communication with the officials in those situations as well, because if the offense subs, the defense has to be allowed the same opportunity to sub.

It is the cat-and-mouse game that will be critical on Saturday.

“What we’ve found over the years is that these offenses, they’ll sub more than you think, so you have to be real intentional about if they sub, you sub,” Lambert said. “They have to give you that opportunity.”

Lambert pointed at last season’s loss to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl as an example of making sure to be prepared for that type of tempo.

“You have to be on top of it, that’s for sure,” Lambert said. “And if you get a personnel group out there that you get stuck with on the field and they don’t sub, then you have to have some calls so you can run whatever you want to run.”

Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter at @PAdkinsBanner or email him at padkins@hdmediallc.com