HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -– The appetizers for the Marshall football team's 2013 season both have been devoured. Now the main course begins.
The Thundering Herd used its newfound fury on defense to force six turnovers and blast Gardner-Webb 55-0 on Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The win gave the Herd its first 2-0 start since the 1999 season, when Marshall went undefeated. It also was Marshall's first shutout since Nov. 28, 2003, when the Herd beat Ohio University, 28-0.
The schedule gets a lot tougher immediately. Marshall goes on the road the next two weeks, first to Ohio for another "Battle for the Bell," then to Blacksburg, Va., and a date with Virginia Tech.
"We're feeling good," redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse said. "But the real games are coming now. It's time to really go. We can't be cocky and we can't sleep on anybody. We have to go out there and just work every day and just try to get better, so every week, we get better."
Saturday's game was in hand by halftime, thanks in part to Marshall forcing four first-half turnovers, including senior corner Monterius Lovett's 70-yard interception return for a touchdown. That gave the Herd back-to-back games with a interception return for a touchdown. Raheem Waiters scored on an interception against Miami (Ohio), and it's the first time the Herd has scored two pick-sixes in one season since 2006, when C.J. Spillman and Zearick Matthews accomplished that feat.
"We talked all week about starting fast and coming out and playing well early, and I thought our kids did that," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "For the most part, we played well."
After dominating Miami last week, the Herd engulfed Gardner-Webb on Saturday. Marshall allowed just 184 yards of total offense – 67 on the ground and 117 through the air on 9-of-20 passing. G-W converted just three of 13 third-down attempts. Along with Roberts' interception, A.J. Leggett and Andre Scott picked off passes as well.
"Offensively, the turnovers, interceptions, bad field positioning in the (one) that went back for a touchdown, it's certainly unacceptable and we can't win any games playing that way," Gardner-Webb coach Carroll McCray said.
While Marshall's defense stuffed the Runnin' Bulldogs offense, Herd running back Steward Butler sparked the team with Marshall's first two touchdowns of the night on runs of 9 and 46 yards. The sophomore had 120 yards on seven carries by halftime on his way to a nine-carry, 151-yard, three-touchdown night. It was his second straight game with at least 100 yards, piggybacking off his 17-carry, 107-yard night against Miami.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato had a quiet night for his standards, completing 16 of 28 passes for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was replaced with 5:23 left in the third quarter by backup Blake Frohnapfel, who completed six of seven passes for 55 yards and a 1-yard touchdown to tight end and twin brother Eric Frohnapfel.
Tommy Shuler led all receivers with 85 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown from Cato, on five catches. The Herd rolled up 509 yards of total offense – 224 on the ground and 285 in the air – against the Bulldogs.
After recording just one sack against Miami, the Herd ramped up production on that front. Marshall picked up six against Gardner-Webb. Josh Brown, Kent Turene, Jeremiah Taylor, Arnold Blackmon and James Rouse each recorded a solo sack, while Deon Meadows and Gary Thompson combined for one.
Holliday said the broad spectrum of players making a contribution was one of the biggest benefits to Saturday's game.
"The one good thing I liked about the game is we got to play a lot of kids," Holliday said. "There were a lot of young players who got in there and were able to get their feet wet. To see Josh Brown and Gary Thompson, Arnold Blackmon and all those guys … to get in there and make some plays on defense will help us down the road."
Next Saturday's game at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio, versus the Bobcats kicks off at 8 p.m. on ESPNews.
– Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.