MCGILL: Herd upset not in the cards in front of near-record crowd

Ryan Yurachek
Sept. 25, 2016

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The circumstances were special. Louisville, at No. 3, was the highest-ranked FBS team to ever visit Huntington. The sellout crowd, an over-capacity 40,592, was No. 2 in the 26-year history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Garet Morrell, a true freshman quarterback, made his first collegiate start for the home team.

That word – special – was used in post-game interviews by Marshall tight end Ryan Yurachek as he described the Cardinals’ defensive front seven. That word – special – was also used by MU coach Doc Holliday as he tried to capture the 479-yard, seven-touchdown performance by U of L’s Heisman candidate quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

In the end, it all stacked up to a 59-28 triumph for Louisville here Saturday night. The score looks lopsided, but here’s the spin: Marshall, with a rookie teenager behind center and what Holliday called a “limited” playbook, played one of the nation’s best college football teams closer than a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference schools, Florida State and Syracuse.

Louisville entered Saturday night’s game averaging 65.0 points and winning by an average of 44.3 points.

“I think we had to earn it more tonight,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “(Marshall) did a good job of mixing things up and executing (its) plan.”

It was a pat on the back from a coach who had watched his team wallop then-No. 2 Florida State by 43 points a week earlier, but couldn’t find a two-score cushion against the Herd until a second quarter touchdown pass made it 14-0.

“There’s no question that’s an excellent football team,” Holliday said. “That quarterback is a special guy. We made a few plays early, but we didn’t make enough plays.

“What a great atmosphere,” he added, acknowledging an attendance figure that trails only a 2010 visit from West Virginia (41,382). “I wish we could’ve played a little better. But it was a tremendous crowd … I sure appreciate them coming out.”

Louisville, which is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2013, held a 7-0 lead after the first quarter after outscoring its first three opponents 70-10 combined. The Cardinals’ first touchdown was a 71-yard strike from Jackson to James Quick, the first of five touchdown passes by Jackson. He added three of those TD passes in the second quarter as the lead swelled to 28 points, 35-7, by intermission.

Jackson finished 24 of 44 passing for 417 yards and five touchdowns. He added 62 yards on the ground on 12 carries, including scoring runs of 4 and 9 yards. The sophomore entered the game as the nation’s second leading rusher, but this was the first time a team held him under 100 yards. His total offensive output in Saturday’s game is the second-most by any visiting player in Marshall history, trailing only UTEP’s Trevor Vittatoe (517 yards in 2009).

Morrell, Jackson’s QB counterpart, finished 9 of 21 passing for 59 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Morrell started in place of sophomore Chase Litton, who missed the game because of an undisclosed injury. Morrell connected with Yurachek for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left of the first half, and sophomore running back Keion Davis for a 12-yard catch and run for the score in the fourth quarter.

The Herd’s other offensive touchdown came from junior running back Tony Pittman, who bullied his way to a 13-yard scoring run with 2:41 left of the game. Pittman was the Herd’s leading rusher with 54 yards on seven carries.

“I don’t know what the final stats were, but I thought we played great up front,” Yurachek said.

Marshall also scored on defense, a 26-yard scoop-and-score by redshirt freshman defensive end Ty Tyler. The touchdown is Tyler’s second fumble return for a score this season.

Defensively, the Herd was led in tackles by senior safety Corey Neely (12). Sophomore linebacker Chase Hancock filled the stat sheet with eight tackles, his first career solo sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Hancock sacked Jackson on third down on Louisville’s opening drive, which is the first time this season the Cardinals didn’t open a game with a touchdown the first time the offense had the ball.

Next up for Marshall: Pittsburgh (2-2). The Panthers opened the season with wins against Villanova and Penn State (both at home), followed by road losses to Oklahoma State and North Carolina. Pitt was tied with Oklahoma State in the final two minutes of regulation and the Tar Heels scored with 23 seconds left to escape with the win.

Pitt is 2-0 at Heinz Field, the site of next Saturday’s game with the Herd.

“You can’t miss a beat,” Yurachek said. “You’re going on the road to play one of the top five or six ACC teams next week. We’ve got to go back to work.

“We’ve got 24, 25 new guys on the travel squad this year and this is going to be their first road game, first time on a bus going to a game. We’ve got to get prepared.”

The game against Pitt will be the final non-conference test for Marshall before the Oct. 8 road trip to North Texas for the start of Conference USA play.

“All of our goals and dreams are still there,” Holliday said. “We haven’t gotten in conference play yet. We’ve got to keep fighting.”