MCGILL: Turnovers Costly in @HerdFB Home Loss Against FIU
The Word on the Herd
By Chuck McGill
Box Score (PDF)
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Doc Holliday, who has walked the sidelines since 1979 and been the head coach at Marshall for 98 games, makes one prediction each week about college football: the sport can be unpredictable.
Holliday, ever cautious about the inevitable upsets that beset teams each week, watched his Thundering Herd play the victim on a dreary Saturday here at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, as visiting Florida International ended Marshall’s five-game winning streak, 41-30, in front of 19,966 rain-soaked fans.
It was all sunshine for FIU, which is now 5-2 overall and off to its best start in program history. The Golden Panthers scored twice in the first quarter, twice in the second quarter and had nary a turnover in less-than-ideal playing conditions. FIU had not won the turnover battle in any of its first six games, but intercepted Marshall quarterback Chase Litton twice and recovered a Litton fumble on the game’s second play.
“Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over,” Holliday said. “We had three turnovers and they had zero, which was the difference in the game. FIU came in here, they were well-prepared and they were better than we were today.”
Marshall is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in a competitive C-USA East Division. The Herd has a quick turnaround as it prepares to play Florida Atlantic this Friday 6 p.m., in Boca Raton, Florida.
It was another Florida team, FIU, that overcame cold temperatures and consistent rainfall in the mountains of West Virginia.
“Obviously today not turning the ball over in the rainy, nasty, slippery day was unbelievably good by the guys who touched the ball,” said Butch Davis, FIU’s first-year head coach.
FIU won the coin toss and deferred until the second half, which meant Marshall started with the ball. After a running play to start the game, Litton dropped back to pass and had the ball squirt from his hands on second down at the MU 33. Both teams struggled to corral the wet football, but FIU finally landed on it on the 13-yard line and put the Herd’s stout defense in a challenging position.
“It’s huge. It really is,” Davis said. “Obviously when you go on the road one of the things you want to do, if you can, is to start fast. So you get the turnover, you score points and now your energy level is good throughout the entire sideline.”
Four plays and 49 seconds later, FIU’s Napoleon Maxwell scored from 2 yards out to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
The score came with 13:22 left of the first quarter, which marked the first touchdown the Herd defense had allowed in the first quarter in eight games this season. Previously, the MU defense had allowed 9 first quarter points in the first seven games.
“You should be able to overcome that,” Holliday said. “There’s going to be some adversity through every game you play, but you have to respond.”
The Panthers doubled their lead before the first quarter was over when Alex Gardner scored on a 7-yard run to cap a 10-play, 66-yard drive to give the visitors a 14-0 lead with 6:59 left of the opening quarter. FIU had two key passing plays in the steady rain during that scoring drive, both Alex McGough to Pharoah McKever connections. McKever, a 6-foot-6, 248-pound tight end, had receptions of 21 yards and 17 yards on the drive.
FIU scored twice before the Marshall offense managed a first down, cracked positive yardage or passed midfield. On the drive where Marshall did all three, it appeared the offense had found a rhythm. That drive – the Herd’s third of the game – ended when a Litton pass to the end zone to Tyre Brady fell incomplete on fourth down.
Marshall cut the lead in half midway through the second quarter when Litton found receiver Willie Johnson for a 15-yard touchdown to make it 14-7.
But FIU dominated for the remainder of the first half, scoring twice on connections from McGough to receiver Thomas Owens to make the score 28-7 at intermission. Even though the score was lopsided, MU and FIU each had 14 first downs at halftime, and the Panthers outgained the Herd 246-171.
Litton had 164 consecutive pass attempts without an interception – the second-longest streak in school history – when FIU’s Brad Muhammad stepped in front of a Litton throw and returned the pick 12 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-7, FIU. Chad Pennington, who had 177 consecutive passes without an interception in 1997 and ’98, has the only streak longer than Litton’s run, which dates back to the Kent State game on Sept. 16.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” Holliday said. “We’ve done a good job of doing that but today’s results are what happens when you don’t do that.”
The Herd cut the deficit to 21 points, 35-14, when freshman running back Tyler King broke free for a 26-yard scoring run with 4:27 left of the third quarter. The touchdown was King’s fifth of the season and third in the last two games.
Litton was intercepted again early in the fourth quarter, and FIU responded with an eight-play, 64-yard drive to add a field goal for a 38-14 lead. The Panthers turned three MU turnovers into 17 points.
The Marshall offense retaliated quickly, scoring in three plays (and 83 yards) when Litton found junior receiver Marcel Williams for a 24-yard touchdown. Litton connected with Johnson for the 2-point conversion to make it 38-22, FIU. On the drive, junior running back Keion Davis broke free for a 59-yard run, the longest of his career and the longest by a Herd running back this season.
The Herd put together one more scoring drive – 11 plays and 73 yards in 2:36 – which culminated with Litton’s scoring pass to Tyre Brady from 8 yards out. Another 2-point conversion made it 38-30, FIU, and gave Marshall a sliver of hope under the dark gray skies.
The onside kick by Kaare Vedvik, though, was unsuccessful, and FIU tacked on an insurance field goal with 26 seconds left to arrive at the final score.
“I thought the kids fought the whole game,” Holliday said. “We didn’t play smart at times and didn’t take care of the ball. We got it down to a one-possession game but we didn’t get the opportunity to finish it.”
Marshall finished with more first downs than FIU, 29-21, and outgained the Panthers 505-401 in total offense. The Herd had fewer penalties and a better conversion rate on third downs, but could not overcome three turnovers and three failed conversions on fourth downs.
Litton completed 33 of 52 passes for a season-high 363 yards and three touchdowns. Davis rushed for 85 yards on 11 carries and King added 82 on 13 attempts. Brady led the receivers with nine catches for 101 yards, while Williams added 92 receiving yards. Seven different players caught a pass and five finished with at least 40 receiving yards.
Junior linebacker Chase Hancock led the defense with a career-high 17 tackles. Sophomore safety Malik Gant added 13 tackles and sophomore cornerback Chris Jackson added 10. Sophomore linebacker Omari Cobb recorded the Herd’s only sack.