HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall's football team spent the week preparing for the University of Alabama at Birmingham reminded of how the Blazers set the tone of last season's upset with a dominant running game.
So the Thundering Herd decided to try its own hand at an overwhelming ground game, with record-breaking results.
With a trio of 100-yard rushers - a feat never before reached in Herd history - Marshall barreled into bowl eligibility with a 56-14 win over the Blazers on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Herd (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) ran for a season-high 381 yards and a hefty 11.9 yards per carry. The bulk of those yards came from running backs Essray Taliaferro, Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms, the individuals in the Herd's fleet of runners over the century mark.
"It's definitely an honor to be in that situation, to see that me, Stew and Grooms achieved an accomplishment that never happened at Marshall," said Taliaferro, who ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. "Especially considering past offenses, the (Byron) Leftwiches and Ahmad Bradshaws and all the running backs, it feels good to be a part of history."
Butler led all rushers Saturday with 139 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, while Grooms added 109 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Marshall Coach Doc Holliday and the running backs were quick to point out those three weren't the only reasons the Herd pounded the Blazers (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) on the ground. They all gave plenty of credit to the offensive line.
"It seems like our O-line played with a chip on its shoulder," Taliaferro said. "Anybody could have run through them. A lot of credit goes to them."
Center Chris Jasperse said Taliaferro was right about the line's attitude. That group remembered last season's game, when the Blazers leaned on its run game in the second half to hold onto its lead and averaged more than 5 yards a carry in the process. The Herd wasn't so effective, rushing 41 times, but gaining just 121 yards.
Marshall wanted to set the tone this time around, Jasperse said.
"We took pride in this game that we were going to run the ball," Jasperse said. "Last year, they stuck it to us and we didn't do a very good job of getting hats on hats until the second half, when it was too late. We really just wanted to come out swinging this game."
And the Herd threw some haymakers against the Blazers. Grooms' touchdown, on his first carry of the game, came from 71 yards out. Taliaferro's second touchdown was a 16-yarder and his longest run of the game was for 24 yards. And Butler had a run of 61 yards to go with his 49-yard touchdown. Herd Coach Doc Holliday said it helped Saturday that UAB put three down linemen against Marshall's offense, much like last season when the Herd was more of a pass-happy bunch.