Marshall football: Herd tired of hearing 'What happened?'
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato drummed his fingers across the table in the front of the interview room. Safety Dominick LeGrande shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The frustration was obvious in their actions, their faces and their voices.
It disturbed them to be forced answer the same questions after another loss, variations on a two-word inquiry - "What happened?" This time, it came after the Thundering Herd's 45-38 Homecoming loss to Tulsa, a game the Herd led in the fourth quarter despite trailing by as many as two touchdowns.
What aggravated them more was the fact they really couldn't offer a definitive answer. Marshall has the right ingredients, LeGrande said. It's just still searching for the right recipe.
"It hurts losing when you know you have everything there," he said. "It just comes down to making plays in the end and we have to make plays."
So, despite an offense ranked third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing, fifth in total offense and 16th in scoring, Marshall is 2-4 overall, 1-1 in Conference USA and headed into its bye week wondering how it can regain its footing.
While the players might not be able to put a finger on their woes, these statistics might be part of the problem:
In all three phases of the game against the Golden Hurricane - offense, defense and special teams - the Herd coupled big plays with crushing mistakes. Marshall gained 572 yards against Conference USA's top defense, led by Cato's 391 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing. But the Herd's offense also committed three turnovers -including its third turnover returned for a touchdown in its last two games - and couldn't score a game-tying touchdown on its final drive with four shots inside Tulsa's red zone.
The Marshall defense turned out its best performance of the season, holding Tulsa to 340 yards of total offense when the Hurricane averages nearly 458 a game. When Marshall turned the ball over on its first two drives, Tulsa started drives on Marshall's 46 and 38, respectively. The Hurricane could score just one field goal on those two drives.
Yet the Herd allowed 250 yards rushing and Tulsa converted all three of its fourth downs, including running back Alex Singleton's 48-yard first-quarter touchdown on fourth and 1.
Marshall's special teams forced a fumble on a second-quarter kickoff that allowed the Herd to tie the game at 17 with 1:15 left in the first half, on an 11-yard pass from Cato to Antavious Wilson. It also gave up Trey Watts' 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
At the season's halfway mark, the Herd needs four wins in its last six games to reach back-to-back bowls. That hasn't happened in Huntington since the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Yet Marshall's margin for error is growing thinner, and Cato said it's time to put a stop to that.
"I've never been a loser in my life," Cato said. "I've always had a passion for winning and I know all the players on our team do. We have to stop saying that we'll get them next series or on the next drive. It's time right now. We have to start winning now. We have no more room for losing at all."
The Herd now can work on that with a week's worth of practice and no immediate opponent in the future. No player should consider this week an opportunity to relax, safety Okechukwu Okoroha said. If he has anything to say about it, it will be a chance to correct the mistakes that have made the difference in Marshall's record.
"There are things that just show up in practice over and over, they show up in the game," he said. "We've just got to clean it up. We're not taking it easy anymore in practice. All the bad habits and stuff we create aren't going to cut it anymore. I'm going make it a point to the team. If we practice hard, we play hard."
Marshall has history on its side when it comes to second-half rallies, especially in Coach Doc Holliday's tenure. In each of his first two seasons, the Herd won four of its last five games. While it's not the scenario he wanted after the first six games of 2012, it's the mission for the final six.
"That's what needs to happen," Holliday said. "It has to. We've finished strong the last couple of years, and we have to finish strong this year."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.