BOGACZYK: Herd Runs to Bowl Bid, but Wants Much More|
Nov. 9, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There were plenty of things for Marshall's football team to cheer about itself on a sunny, windy Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
Becoming bowl eligible wasn't one of them.
On a day when UAB kept the ball for two-thirds of the time of possession before 22,321 fans, the Thundering Herd lived up to the adjective in its nickname.
For the first time in its history, Marshall rolled with a trio of 100-yard rushers in the same game.
With a 381-yard ground game and more - the fifth-best rushing total in Marshall annals -- coach Doc Holliday's team blew away UAB, 56-14, the second straight Conference USA obliteration by an attack that not so long ago relied mostly on the right arm of quarterback Rakeem Cato.
"I can assure you we didn't have any Gatorade baths and there wasn't dancing in the locker room because we won six games," said Holliday, who has a second bowl-bound team in his four MU seasons. "That's what we expect to do around here. Our standards and expectations around here sure aren't just to get bowl eligible and win six games.
"It's to go play for championships. That's all well and good, but we have higher expectations. Our fanbase does, our community does, our football program does. We're not about winning six games here."
The Herd (6-3, 4-1 C-USA) now faces a short week with a Thursday night date at Tulsa. Marshall is 5-0 at home this season, but only 1-3 on the road, with the victory a furious comeback triumph at FAU, 24-23.
So, how does Holliday bottle what's happened at "The Joan" and take it on the road for must wins at Tulsa and FIU?
"If I knew, I'd sure like to do that," he said. "This team has played well all year, played hard all year and I assure you it will be no different Thursday night."
Marshall followed its 61-13 romp past Southern Miss a week earlier with a similar performance - got out of the gate fast, roll past 600 yards total offense. The 381 ground yards were a high since getting 388 in a win at East Tennessee State in the Herd's Division I-AA days of 1995.
And Marshall's offensive onslaught took place in only 20:59 of possession time - the fewest minutes and second with the ball in a win since the Herd's second game after a return to major college football - 18:45 in a 35-25 triumph at Army on the "banks of the Hudson" in 1997.
Sophomore Steward Butler, the third back to play in the rout, led Marshall with 139 yards. Starter Essray Taliaferro went for 118 - the third straight 100-yarder for the senior - and sophomore Kevin Grooms reached 108. The trio's 365 yards came on only 27 carries. Butler ran 61 yards for a score, Grooms 71 to the end zone.
"There were big plays," said UAB coach Garrick McGee, whose team dropped to 2-7, 1-4. "There were missed tackles, and they were running it in on us."
For the day, the Herd ran for an average of 11.9 yards per play, topping the 11.3 set just one week earlier with 27-for-304 against Southern Miss. Marshall's total offense was 657 yards - sixth best in MU history - and the per-play average of 12.6 yards just missed the 12.7 school mark achieved against VMI in 1991.
"Our offensive line coach (Alex Mirabal) has been working on those guys very hard and we've got a very good running backs coach (Thomas Brown)," Butler said. "He pushes us hard, too, and that's why we looked so good today.
"We all compete. We make one another better. And when you get your chance to get onto the field, it's time to produce ... We don't really think about all the records and all that. We just go out there and have fun and if the records come, that's good.
"If it happens, it happens."
And it happened. For only the fourth time in school history, the Herd produced back-to-back games of 630 or more total yards. The previous occasions were Central Michigan (647) and Akron (726) in 2001; Kent State (645) and Buffalo (733) in `02; Houston (665) and East Carolina (633) in 2012; and Southern Miss (636) and UAB (657) the last two weeks.
A year ago in a 5-7 finish, Cato had nine games of 340 or more passing yards - because the Herd needed that and Marshall "took what they gave us," as Holliday likes to say. Now, although Cato threw for three scores Saturday to reach 75 TD passes in his third Herd season, the junior from Miami doesn't have to be the offensive focus.
He's had only one 300-yard passing game this season (366 in a loss at Ohio).
"That's a great feeling," said Cato, whose spirited talk to his teammates as a game captain on the eve of kickoff included a message he said the Herd took to heart. "You've got to be self-motivated.
"What I mean by self-motivated is you go out and practice hard, you've got to get yourself ready, make yourself better as a player and everything else will take care of itself. Once you're self-motivated and doing everything right as an individual, everything else will come to you."
UAB never got Cato on the ground and the Herd played its first game without a turnover in 2013. And while the Herd defense wasn't up to its usual denial on third down (the Blazers were 7-of-16), some of that was because the Marshall offense was so productive so quickly.
"They tried to take the passing game away like they did last year," Cato said of UAB's win at Legion Field, "but our offensive line did a great job reading the right holes, and the running backs took care of business ... We've been talking all week about our chemistry, us as players, as coaches we have to have a killer instinct and start putting people away. We did a great job responding to that."
Veteran Herd center Chris Jasperse addressed his team's struggles on the road in 2013.
"You're scoring in someone else's house," he said. "We have two road games still, and its `go' time. We have to win these two (Tulsa and FIU). This is where we have to pick it up. Sure, we've got one home game later on, but it's time to go on the road."
Cato broke the school record he shared with Chad Pennington for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. The junior is now at 27 games among active QBs, second nationally only to Fresno State's Derek Carr.
The MU quarterback said the Herd's sights are tunnel-vision.
"We have Tulsa to think about," he said. "Our standards are so much higher, not just being bowl eligible. That's a good thing, but we set out to win a (conference) championship, not just go to a bowl game. Our players have done a good job responding to that and we've got to just play one play at a time."
And if Holliday didn't quite have the answer about what the Herd needs to bottle from home and take to Oklahoma with them, the quarterback provided his opinion.
"Just focus," Cato said. "I told our guys (Friday) night in our meetings, when things get tough, go back to your fundamentals, go back to what you know. Settle yourself down, be patient, just figure it out and you'll be all right."
SEEN AND HERD: Not only did Marshall have three 100-yard rushers, junior slot receiver Tommy Shuler had his seventh career 100-yard receiving game. Shuler was 6-for-100. His six receptions give him 65 this season (No. 24 on the MU single-season list, passing College Football Hall of Famer Mike Barber's 1986 season of 64). His 110 catches last season is the record, with Barber 106 in 1987 at No. 2. Shuler has 189 career catches, and passed former teammate Antavious Wilson (187) for the No. 7 spot on the all-time list ... Taliaferro's third consecutive 100-yard rushing game is the most in a row for the Herd since Darius Marshall had four straight in Weeks 2-5 in the 2009 season (Virginia Tech 109, Bowling Green 186, Memphis 203, East Carolina 141). Taliaferro had a career-high 134 in the loss at Middle Tennessee and 108 last week against Southern Miss ... Safety Taj Letman had an 11-tackle game, his best, and true freshman Tiquan Lang got a second straight start at strong safety over sophomore D.J. Hunter. Holliday said Lang (seven tackles) "is playing better right now, and we're going to play the best players, the guys who produce, the guys who make plays." ... Strongside linebacker Stefan Houston joined Lang as the only Herd true freshmen to make a start this season ... Letman and linebacker Neville Hewitt forced UAB fumbles, with linemen Brandon Sparrow and Gary Thompson getting the Marshall recoveries ... The Herd, which ranked 16th nationally entering the game in tackles for losses with 63, had seven more ... With Tulsa heading to the AAC after this season, Thursday' game figures to be the last between the Herd and Golden Hurricane. Marshall has yet to win in four tries against Tulsa ... Marshall is one of six C-USA teams that are bowl eligible, joining East Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Tulane, Rice and North Texas ... The Herd is 7-3 in its bowl history. A look at the postseason games:
(Year listed in season ended by bowl)
*1947 - Tangerine Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)
Catawba (N.C.) 7, Marshall 0
*1997 - Motor City Bowl (Detroit)
Ole Miss 34, Marshall 31
*1998 - Motor City Bowl (Detroit)
Marshall 48, Louisville 29
*1999 - Motor City (Detroit)
Marshall 21, BYU 3
*2000 - Motor City Bowl (Detroit)
Marshall 25, Cincinnati 14
*2001 - GMAC Bowl (Mobile, Ala.)
Marshall 64, East Carolina 61, 2OT
*2002 - GMAC Bowl (Mobile, Ala.)
Marshall 38, Louisville 15
*2004 - Fort Worth Bowl (Fort Worth, Texas)
Cincinnati 32, Marshall 14
*2009 - Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Detroit)
Marshall 21, Ohio 17
*2011 - Beef `O' Brady's Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Marshall 20, FIU 10