HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – From the third and fourth plays of Saturday's game between the Marshall and Southern Mississippi football teams, it was evident what kind of day it would be for both sides.
A Golden Eagles fumble, followed by a Thundering Herd touchdown pass, sent Marshall to the races. The Herd streaked out the gate and cruised to the finish in a 61-13 win over the Golden Eagles at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The 61 points from the Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) were the most its scored since joining the conference in 2004 and the most its scored overall since a 66-21 win at Buffalo in 2002. The deluge came from even doses of running and passing. Marshall gained 304 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries and completed 28 of 37 passes for 332 yards and six touchdowns.
"That's what has to happen," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "Those are the games that worry you the most. These guys walk to class every day and they walk down the street and everyone's telling them how they're going to win this football game and how this team isn't going to come in here and play.
"As a coach, I worry more about games like this today than you do big-time games," Holliday said. "I'm happy with the way our kids came out and responded."
Marshall's defense set the tone on the third play of the game, when safety Tiquan Lang, starting in place of injured D.J. Hunter, plowed into Tyre'oune Holmes and jarred the ball loose. Brandon Sparrow recovered for the Herd to give the offense the ball on Southern Miss' 27-yard line. Then, on the game's fourth play, Rakeem Cato zipped it across the middle to tight end Gator Hoskins for his first of five touchdown passes and a 7-0 Marshall lead must 79 seconds into the game. By the end of the first, Marshall was up 28-0.
Other than Hoskins, Cato found Craig Wilkins and Davonte Allen each once and Tommy Shuler twice for touchdown passes. His five scores gave him 72 for his career and sole possession of third place all time, passing Michael Payton's 69. Then backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who entered the game in the fourth quarter, threw another touchdown to Allen. Those six touchdown passes tied the school record for the most in a single game, a mark now reached seven times.
Meanwhile, Marshall's running backs, led by Kevin Grooms and Essray Taliaferro, gashed the defense of the Golden Eagles (0-8, 0-4 C-USA), who now have lost 20 games in a row. Grooms led the Herd with eight carries for 109 yards and a 75-yard score, while Taliaferro gained 108 yards on eight carries with an 18-yard touchdown. Steward Butler added a 59-yard touchdown and finished with 60 yards on three carries.
The Herd's defense stymied Southern Miss' offense after allowing season highs in points and yards against Middle Tennessee. The Golden Eagles were held to 74 yards on 33 carries and while freshman quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 323 yards, he needed 24 completions in 48 attempts to do it, was picked off once, sacked four times and hurried another 15.
Marshall's one defensive breakdown came when Mullens hit Markese Triplett for an 81 yard touchdown in the second half, which also was the first play of any kind over 50 yards that the Herd has allowed this season.
"It's obvious we didn't do many things right," Southern Miss Coach Todd Monken said. "You can sugarcoat it all you want, but we didn't tackle very well and we didn't defend them (well) enough. We were OK on special teams, and offensively, we didn't start the way we wanted to start. We're having a hard time piecing plays together, and there's no way to get around it."
Shuler caught 10 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, while Allen caught three passes for 83 yards and two scores. Cato completed 21 of 28 passes for 262 yards and five scores, while Frohnapfel completed seven of nine passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Stefan Houston recorded 10 tackles, one for a loss, while both of defensive end Gary Thompson's tackles went for a loss, including a nine-yard sack.
The Herd returns to Edwards Stadium next Saturday to host the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a chance for Marshall to win its sixth game and become bowl eligible after missing out on the postseason in 2012.
– 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.