Nov. 2, 2013
Final Stats | Quotes | Notes | Holliday Press Conference
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There is a difference between playing fast and starting fast.
Marshall has done the former with regularity the last two seasons, regularly piling up more than 85 snaps per game.
The latter? Not so much.
That's why the Thundering Herd's 61-13 Conference USA dismantling of visiting Southern Mississippi was impressive Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
"The big goal for this game was to start fast," said Herd senior running back Essray Taliaferro, who became the first Marshall rusher to post back-to-back 100-yard games since Darius Marshall had four in a row in 2009.
"This week we especially emphasized to come out in first quarter, score on the first drive; the defense get a stop on first drive. So, that was the game plan, and we achieved our goal."
A 20th straight loss - the nation's longest skid -- for Southern Miss (0-8, 0-4) was in the cards early before a crowd of 20,398. The day included a 15-year reunion for the 1998 Herd, which finished 12-1 and won a Mid-American Conference title and the school's first bowl triumph (over Louisville in the Motor City Bowl).
The current Herd (5-3, 3-1), however, rekindled history of a season earlier in rolling to a 28-0 first-quarter bulge. Marshall hadn't scored 28 in an opening quarter since owning a 28-7 lead over Akron in October 1997 - a 52-17 triumph in the program's first season back in major college football.
In the middle of the second quarter, the `98ers came onto the field for an introduction. The Herd offense, huddled between the sideline and the alumni team, began filing through the line of 1998 players and slapping and shaking hands.
"The offensive guys were all right there beside them, they kind of did it on their own," Herd coach Doc Holliday said of the impromptu present-meets-past gathering. "(Quarterbacks Rakeem) Cato and Chad (Pennington) are tight ... and they do respect them.
"Our team wants to do what that team did, and that's go win a championship. So those guys have great respect for those guys because they've done it, and they were wearing the same uniforms that they're wearing."
There was another Cato-Pennington connection on the day, too. In throwing five scoring passes - a fourth time he's hit that number - Cato connected on a scoring pass for the 26th straight game. That tied Pennington's Marshall record, set through every game of the 1997 and '98 seasons. Cato's 26 games rank second to Fresno State QB Derek Carr among active FBS tossers.
"I just come out and work hard every practice, give it my all every practice," said Cato, the junior who had a tighter rein on the offense in the game than he's had previously. "I feel like we practice hard, work hard, and things like that are going to show up in a game."
Cato's five touchdown passes took him to 72 for his career, eclipsing Michael Payton (69 from 1989-92) for third place on the Marshall career list. He trails Pennington (115) and Byron Leftwich (89).
Holliday said Cato checked off successfully throughout the game, and slot receiver Tommy Shuler - who had 10 catches and two touchdowns - said it was most notable on Taliaferro's 18-yard scoring run up the middle to start the third quarter.
"Yeah, they gave him a freedom on Tuesday in practice that he could check off to anything he sees," Shuler said of his teammate and close buddy from Miami. "And he went out there and made checks and we got the ball down the field and scored most of the time."
Cato said he saw a Cover Two with the safeties wide and the box empty.
"With exception of one turnover (a lost fumble), I thought he played well," Holliday said. "I think we were 300-plus (yards) passing, 300-plus rushing. I thought we were balanced in what we were doing, which helped us.
"A lot of that was on him, he made a couple great checks. We had some calls that were actually throws that he checked into run, lot of run-pass option. He did a great job of getting us into the right call, whether it be run or take the pass off of it. He managed the game extremely well."
Thanks to that balance (304 rushing, 332 passing), Marshall needed only 22:36 time of possession to pile up 636 yards in 64 plays. Its 9.94 yards-per-play average was the Herd's best since 10.3 in a 66-21 rout of Buffalo back in 2002.
Taliaferro ran 55 yards and was headed for a second-quarter touchdown when Golden Eagles' safety Emmanuel Johnson chased down the Herd back and caused him to fumble through the end zone for a touchback.
"I aim for the moment," Taliaferro said, "so it was like at the last minute I wanted to go look at the (video) screen, and I saw him come up on me ... I wish I had it back. I kind of made up for it. I'll never get it back, but I think I kind of made up for it."
The MU senior's 108-yard rushing day was topped by teammate Kevin Grooms by 1 yard - the Herd's first double 100-yard ground day since Stew Butler (166) and Grooms (103) did that in a double-overtime win at Rice last season.
Grooms ran for a 75-yard touchdown, the Herd's longest run from scrimmage since (Darius) Marshall went 80 yards to score against Bowling Green in 2009. Butler's 59-yard run finished the Herd scoring giving Marshall a school record on the scoreboard in a C-USA game. The margin of victory (48 points) was also a program-best.
Meanwhile, Holliday's team got significant production from its outside receiver spot - where success has been spotty this season - as sophomore Davonte Allen caught three passes for 83 yards, two going for touchdowns.
"Davonte, we've been waiting to see him," Holliday said. "We need him to step up; he's one of those outside receivers that has a lot of ability. He missed spring ball, and he missed part of camp ... he's got the skill set to go outside there and give us what we want, along with `MooMoo' (Devon Smith).
"Again Grooms, I still don't think Grooms is where he was a year ago (due to a high ankle sprain suffered in August camp), but he's a lot closer, and I thought Butler went in there and did a couple of things. We're going to need `em all."
The Herd defense limited Southern Miss to 397 yards and the four sacks of USM true freshman quarterback Nick Mullens brought Marshall's season total to 19 - matching the number in 12 games a year ago.
Getting the first Herd start by a true freshman this season, safety Tiquan Lang forced a fumble. Linebacker Stefan Houston, another true freshman, had a game-best 10 tackles, and redshirt freshman A.J. Leggett made his team-leading third interception of the season. Leggett also made his first career start.
Marshall had 11 tackles for losses of 40 USM yards. Marshall's 63 tackles for loss rank in the top 15 nationally.
The Herd stays home, too, entertaining UAB (2-6, 1-3) Saturday at noon at Edwards Stadium. The Blazers fell to Middle Tennessee 24-21 on Saturday, as Cody Clark booted an 18-yard field goal with three seconds left - the Blue Raiders' second straight last-play win.
"You get a game like this, those are the ones that worry you the most," Holliday said. "These guys they walk to class every day and walk down the street and everybody tells them they're going to win this football game and this (Southern Miss) team is not going to come in here and play and those type of things. I'm just happy the way our kids came out and responded."
SEEN AND HERD: Marshall has won three in a row over Southern Miss after starting C-USA play 1-5 against the Golden Eagles ... The Herd hadn't had a 28-0 first-period lead since Oct. 19, 1996, in a 56-21 Southern Conference home triumph over Western Carolina ... Justin Haig's missed point after touchdown (after the Herd's seventh touchdown) ended Marshall's consecutive PAT streak after 40-plus games. The Herd had a streak of 156 in a row (fourth nationally) before the miss and Haig had made 102 in a row (fifth nationally) before his miss. The last PAT miss was Sept. 25, 2010, when Tyler Warner's attempt was blocked in a 24-23 win over Ohio (blocked by Ohio's Ernie Hodge). The last Herd missed PAT (without a block) was by Craig Ratanamorn on Nov. 8, 2008 at East Carolina (19-16 OT loss) ... Marshall's six touchdown passes in the game (five by Cato, one by backup Blake Frohnapfel) tied the Marshall school record for touchdown passes by a team in a game. It is the seventh time the Herd has thrown six touchdown passes in a game ... Redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse's streak of playing every snap ended after 23 quarters (start of the fourth quarter, when he was replaced by true freshman Michael Selby). Jasperse took every snap in the previous five games (Virginia Tech, UTSA, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee) ... Shuler's 10 receptions took him to 183 in a Herd uniform, four behind former teammate Antavious Wilson (187 from 2009-12) for No. 7 on the career list ... The last time the Herd scored more points in one quarter than the 28 in the first quarter against Southern Miss was that 2002 win over Buffalo - a 31-point second quarter ... Cato's 58-yard completion to Smith in the first quarter is the longest Herd pass play of the season ... When Mullens hit Markese Triplett for an 81-yard Golden Eagle score midway through the second quarter, it was the first play of more than 50 yards (run, pass or return) against Marshall this season. That left Cincinnati as the lone FBS team to not allow a 50-plus play this season ... Three of the six longest passes in history against the Herd are by Southern Miss.