HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It was just two Saturdays ago that Marshall Coach Doc Holliday was underneath the stands of M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Miss., beaming about his Thundering Herd's dominating win over Southern Mississippi.
The offense hummed as usual. The defense put together its best game of the year. The special teams were great. Holliday called it a total team win.
Fast forward to this past Saturday in the Marshall football interview room. Exasperation replaced joy. Voices were soaked in frustration, not glee. Central Florida had come to Joan C. Edwards Stadium and controlled every facet of the game, beating the Herd 54-17 and handing Marshall (3-5, 2-2 Conference USA) its third straight loss at home.
Holliday's assessment after the UCF game - a total team loss.
"We didn't play, offensively, very well, defensively or on special teams," Holliday said. "They came in here and beat us."
The Knights (6-2, 4-0) conquered the Herd in ways that were unprecedented this season. UCF held Marshall's offense - the class of Conference USA and one of the most prolific in the Football Bowl Subdivision - to 364 total yards and 17 points. Marshall had been averaging 568.4 yards and 43.1 points entering the game and hadn't scored fewer than 24 points or gained fewer than 491 yards all season.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, the nation's leader in total passing yards with 2,949, was held to 298 against the Knights on 35-of-62 passing, his first sub-300-yard game of the year. He was sacked four times and forced to shoulder the offensive burden, as the Herd's running game sputtered to just 66 yards on 36 carries. Only against Ohio, where Marshall rushed 22 times for 59 yards, was the ground attack worse.
The Herd scored its first touchdown with 26 seconds left in the half, when Antavious Wilson reeled in a 15-yard deflected Cato pass. But that only cut UCF's lead to 27-10. Cato's receivers didn't help at times in the first half, dropping seven passes.
"The plays were there," said Cato, who threw two touchdowns. "We didn't make them as a whole. We're human. We just have to get better at those things and just keep working."
Marshall's defense, which seemed to have a breakthrough against Southern Miss, reverted back to old form against the Knights.
It didn't start out so bad. Junior corner Derrick Thomas intercepted UCF quarterback Blake Bortles' first pass of the game, and redshirt junior linebacker Billy Mitchell picked off another in the second quarter.
The Herd picked up a second-half fumble to win the turnover battle 3-0, but it was one of the few battles it won.
After Justin Haig's 43-yard field goal to give Marshall a 3-0 lead, the Knights rattled off four straight touchdowns and added another four in the second half.
Marshall allowed 568 yards to UCF, the third game this year it allowed at least that much to an opponent. And while Marshall's offense used quantity, UCF's used quality.
The Herd's offense sprinted in place, needing 98 plays to gain 364 yards. UCF gained its 568 on just 62 plays, a 9.2-yard-per-play average.
"It was a big surprise," Mitchell said. "Coming in, I thought we had a great game plan. We were making plays left and right. Missed tackles is what hurt us today.