Marshall football: Herd offense can nitpick at 48-point rout
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team's 61-13 win over Southern Mississippi was decisive.
It was dominating.
But it wasn't perfect.
Thundering Herd players said they think that might actually help the team prepare for this Saturday's home game versus the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
A shaky second quarter left Herd coaches with some teaching opportunities in what was otherwise a pounding of a Golden Eagles team that has now lost 20 consecutive games. Now the Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) will focus on its next game with the Blazers and the chance to become bowl eligible after missing the postseason in 2012.
"Not everything will be peaches and cream," Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "But the only thing that can be peaches and cream is your effort, just going out there and going hard every play, realizing you've made a mistake and going back to the film and trying to correct that mistake."
Cato led the Herd to a first quarter that made everything look like peaches, cream, rainbows and gumdrops. He threw touchdowns to four different receivers in the game's first 15 minutes to stake Marshall to a 28-0 lead and have people in the press box looking up single-game offensive records.
Yet Marshall's game ground to a halt in the second quarter, and for a short time, the momentum swung the way of the winless Golden Eagles (0-8, 0-4 C-USA). The first setback came when Cato scrambled and, as has been his habit, he held the ball away from his body as he did. He ran into his own lineman, the ball popped out and Southern Miss recovered at Marshall's 35. The Golden Eagles, though, couldn't score on the ensuing drive.
They did score, however, after recovering the Herd's next fumble. Running back Essray Taliaferro broke away from the USM defense and was on his way to the longest touchdown of his career. Emmanuel Johnson chased him down from behind and popped the ball out of Taliaferro's hand and through the end zone for a touchback.
"It was so unexpected," Taliaferro said. "He popped it out and, when I went to reach for the ball, it was out of reach. Man, that hurt. That really hurt."
Southern Miss took advantage two plays later with an 81-yard pass from freshman quarterback Nick Mullens to Markese Triplett for the Golden Eagles' lone touchdown. On USM's next drive, following a 23-yard Tyler Williams punt, the Golden Eagles got a 39-yard field goal from Corey Acosta to cut Marshall's lead to 28-10.
Of the 397 yards USM gained against Marshall, 155 of them came in the second quarter.
That flurry would be the only one USM would land in the game. Marshall would outscore Southern Miss 33-3 for the rest of the game. The Herd's 61 points were the most it's scored in nine seasons in Conference USA and the most it's scored overall since dropping 66 points on Buffalo in 2002.
Marshall's 636 yards were the most it gained since the 665-yard performance against Houston last season. Marshall's defense allowed 397 yards, significantly better than the 585 yards it allowed the week before versus Middle Tennessee, and harassed Mullins the entire game with four sacks and 15 hurries. And after Cato's fumble, the Herd defense stopped Southern Miss on fourth and goal from the Marshall 3.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said there were plenty of bright spots Saturday, but there was enough room for improvement that the team will be able to stay dialed in this week.
"Those things shouldn't happen and we have to fix just a couple of issues that we have," he said, "because it's important that we come back here and play well next weekend."
Marshall's postseason future could be cemented against the Blazers. Beat UAB, and the Herd reaches the six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. Marshall needed until the final game of the regular season in 2011 to get there and just missed reaching that point last season. If the Herd gets to a bowl this season, it will be just its third bowl appearance since the 2004 Fort Worth Bowl.
Taliaferro said that even in a blowout, there still some spots that could use polishing before Saturday's crucial matchup.
"There's some minute things that we can work on to make it even better," Taliaferro said. "Overall, we're just happy with this win. We'll enjoy it for (Saturday night), come back and get ready for UAB."