HOUSTON – In its late-season march to Saturday's Conference USA championship game, the Marshall University football team spent much of that time steamrolling over its competition. The Thundering Herd spent Saturday getting taste of how that feels.
Rice University jumped ahead early and barreled through the Herd to claim the C-USA crown in a 41-24 rout at Rice Stadium. In the Herd's first title game appearance since 2002, the Owls won their first outright conference title since 1957.
The Owls (10-3) sprinkled in some big pass plays, including two touchdown passes from running back and game MVP Luke Turner, with its usual bruising running game. Meanwhile, the Herd (9-4) struggled in all three phases.
The bowl picture for both teams cleared very quickly after the game. Rice accepted the invitation to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., that usually comes with a C-USA title win. Marshall accepted an invitation to the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Md. Rice will play a yet-to-be announced SEC opponent, while Marshall will play a yet-to-be announced ACC opponent.
"Plays we made all year just got away from us today," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "We did not make as many as we have, and it was disappointing."
The Herd, which hasn't won a conference championship since the 2002 Mid-American Conference title, found itself in a 14-0 hole within the game's first seven minutes. The first Rice touchdown came on one of those Turner throws, a 35-yard halfback pass to Donte Moore at the 10:15 mark of the first quarter. A shade over two minutes later, Owls quarterback Taylor McHargue tossed a 75-yard touchdown bomb to Jordan Taylor, the longest completion in C-USA Championship history.
"We knew going into the game that they were going to do a lot of halfback option stuff," defensive lineman James Rouse said. "We just didn't execute."
Marshall finally got on the board with 12:21 left in the half on a 27-yard Justin Haig field goal, but Rice countered by taking a page out of Marshall's playbook. It took the Owls just 52 seconds to go 62 yards and finish a four-play drive with a Charles Ross touchdown.