BOGACZYK: No Turnovers, No Trouble for Herd in Win
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 24, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- For 58 minutes and 51 seconds, Marshall was primed to achieve what no Herd football team had accomplished in 10-plus seasons in Conference USA.
Coach Doc Holliday's club was within 1:09 of making winless North Texas the first Herd C-USA foe without a touchdown, when the Mean Green connected on a 22-yard scoring pass Saturday evening.
The Herd Homecoming game at a damp Edwards Stadium wasn't anywhere near as close as the fingertip, over-the-shoulder TD catch by UNT's Darvin Kidsy to cap a 93-yard drive, however. Marshall rolled to a 30-13 victory, owning nearly 35 minutes of possession time offensively without a turnover, in tandem with another impressive defensive effort for the Herd (7-1, 4-0).
"Yeah, it was tough," Herd sophomore safety Kendall Gant said of North Texas' last-gasp score. "You don't want that, but that's all right. We'll get over it."
Marshall's defense last played a touchdown-free game against a major college foe in its last season in the Mid-American Conference, in a 20-3 league triumph over UCF in October 2004. Speaking of the 10th month, the 2015 Herd goes to Charlotte (2-5, 0-4) -- loser of five in a row -- seeking to cap a strong October.
The Herd has allowed only five TDs in four league wins this month, ranking in the top five nationally. Marshall also has gained 11 turnovers in those four games, also a top-five FBS number.
"We're just looking at things different," Gant said of the improvement in the Marshall defense since the calendar flipped. "I guess it's more about taking the ball away. We want the ball. If we can do anything to get the ball, we're going to try to do it.
"And we're getting a lot of pressure (up front). If they can get to (the opposing quarterback) and make him rush to throw the ball, that's what we want. We want you to rush and throw away the ball. Hey, he might throw it to us."
Quarterback DaMarcus Smith had that closed-in feeling for North Texas (0-7, 0-4). Not only did Herd linebacker Evan McKelvey make his second career interception for the game's lone turnover, but Marshall also had a season-high 20 QB hurries, led by five from redshirt freshman end Ryan Bee.
The Herd only got to Smith for two sacks, but he was harassed enough into a 15-of-37 passing day, for 128 yards. Gant -- getting his third start with regular Tiquan Lang injured -- finished with a team-high 12 tackles, and fellow safety Taj Letman had nine.
On the other side of the ball, the Herd got its 22nd 100-yard rushing performance in the last 22 games as Hyleck Foster carried 17 times for 105 -- his second straight 100-yarder. Senior Remi Watson, making his first start of the season, ran for 83 on another 17 carries.
Marshall has 33 of those 100-yard efforts -- by seven running backs and former quarterback Rakeem Cato -- in the last 36 games, dating to the season finale in 2012.
And a 402-yard offensive night came behind a patchwork situation up front. Already playing without all-conference right tackle Clint Van Horn, Marshall lost veteran left guard Sebastian Johansson during the game. Marshall used five linemen at the two guard spots in the win.
It's been a season-long situation for Holliday's team, which continues to endure through depth. The Herd has had 34 players start on offense or defense in 2015 -- 19 of those on the offensive side.
"We started with a quarterback (Michael Birdsong, who was injured in a Week 2 loss at Ohio) and had a quarterback change (to Chase Litton), and now he's not a true freshman anymore, you know what I'm saying?" Watson said. "By rule he is, but he's getting older every week and on offense we're starting to get better and progress every week.
"The injuries, it's just part of the game. Way back in January, our coaches preached to us. No dropoff ... you might be the fourth-string man, but if your number is called, it should be no different than if the first-string man is in there. So, you've just got to be prepared for your moment and when it comes, do what you do."
For the first time this season, Marshall played a turnover-free game, too.
Litton was 19-of-34 for 189 yards with no interceptions in his sixth start -- three of those without picks. Four of his completions went to junior wideout Justin Hunt, who made his first career start. Deandre Reaves' six catches led the Herd.
And place-kicker Nick Smith continued his fine work, too. The redshirt sophomore kicked field goals of 34, 32 and 38 yards, extending his run to 11-for-11 and giving Marshall 18 straight field goal conversions dating to Justin Haig's 23-yard miss in the first quarter against UAB at Legion Field last Nov. 22.
Smith also is 30-of-30 this season on PATs.
"Offensively, the biggest thing I was proud of was that we took care of the football and didn't turn the ball over, which is huge," Holliday said. "That's the number one thing we try to get done on offense. "I thought the defense played really well. That team had less than 250 total yards until the last drive when we had some starters out, so we took care of the job there.
"Our special teams played well. Our kicker went in there and made his kicks. Our punter punted it well. We had the one fake punt (a direct-snap to up-back Ryan Yurachek for a 27-yard gain), which was good and will help us down the road. Overall, I thought we just kind of took care of business and we've got to get ready to go again this week.
"At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is you win the game. That's the only thing that matters."
SEEN `N' HERD: Isabelle "Izzy" Rogner, the Student Government Association vice president and a Herd cross country and track and field runner, was voted Miss Marshall for Homecoming 2015. Rogner is a junior from Lewisburg and also is VP of the MU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. It was the second time in four years a Marshall runner was named Miss Marshall. Leslie Thomas Starnes -- now in veterinary school at Auburn University -- took the honor in 2012. The 2015 Mr. Marshall was Nigel Wallace, a senior from Logan ... Marshall has won 19 of its last 20 home games and 18 of its last 22 C-USA games. That includes a 1-1 record in the last two C-USA title games ... The Herd is heading toward the part of the season when Holliday's teams have performed their best. The Herd coach's previous five teams were 21-6 in games after Oct. 28, including 12-1 at Edwards Stadium ... The Herd defense limited North Texas to 5-of-16 on third down.