HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall wide receiver Devon Smith and the rest of the Thundering Herd heard something they didn't like entering Saturday's game against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Smith said he heard word that the Roadrunners - a team in its first year of Conference USA, second year of Football Bowl Subdivision play and third year as an active football team - said they would try to be more physical than the Herd.
"We weren't about to let that happen," Smith said. "We came in feeling we were going to punch them in the mouth first and drive down the field, drive down the field, and that's what we did."
The Herd's fastest start of the season led it to its first C-USA win of the season, a 34-10 homecoming victory over the Roadrunners that Marshall (3-2, 1-0 C-USA) put away early.
Quick starts haven't been the Herd's calling card so far in 2013. In its first four games, Marshall has been tied or trailed after the first quarter in three. The Herd trailed Miami (Ohio) 7-0, tied Ohio 7-7 and trailed Virginia Tech 14-7 after the first 15 minutes of each game. The only time the team led after the first quarter was 14-0 over Gardner-Webb.
Against the Roadrunners (2-4, 1-1 C-USA), Marshall stormed out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, and Coach Doc Holliday attributed much of that to the defense.
"We had two turnovers, back-to-back," Holliday said. "We had two interceptions in the first half that gave us great field advantage. We turned one into a touchdown and one into three points."
UTSA's first two drives of the game lasted a total of nine plays and both ended with Marshall interceptions.
The first drive lasted three plays until defensive end Alex Bazzie batted an Eric Soza pass and linebacker Evan McKelvey pulled it down for the pick he returned 13 yards to the Roadrunners 42. Marshall's offense turned that into a 33-yard Justin Haig field goal.
The second drive went six plays, but that time it was defensive end Gary Thompson who swatted Soza's pass for end Ra'Shawde Myers to intercept at the UTSA 38. The Herd got a touchdown on the next drive after quarterback Rakeem Cato found tight end Devon Johnson for a 17-yard score.
Marshall linebacker Stefan Houston, who led the Herd with eight tackles and 1.5 for a loss, said the coaches preached a fast start to the UTSA game the entire time they prepared for the Roadrunners. Early leads the Herd couldn't muster against the Bobcats or Hokies might have changed the complexion of those games if Marshall could have gotten a quick start.
"It was very important just to set the tone, from the start of the game until the end," Houston said. "We had to keep our minds level-headed so we didn't get too confident."
* * *
SMITH RETURNED to form as a punt returner against the Roadrunners. The speedy senior returned two for a total of 55 yards against UTSA. He returned his first attempt 26 yards and his second for 29 yards. On the second, he felt one cut made the difference between a long return and a touchdown.
Smith entered Saturday's game averaging 9.42 yards per punt return on the season. That average jumped to 12 yards a return by the game's end.
"I can't be satisfied with that," Smith said. "I want to be number one. I think we have the talent to do it. I'm going to get as much yardage as I can."