MCGILL: Herd Shows Promise in Second Half, Falls Short
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 2, 2016
By Chuck McGill
PITTSBURGH – Six first-half possessions. Three first downs. Zero points.
Saturday night at Heinz Field, an NFL stadium that features a pair of 35-foot, 8,000-pound fiberglass ketchup bottles atop the scoreboard, the Marshall football team’s offense went splat. Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, end of half – that is how the Herd’s first-half possessions ended. On the road against Pitt, MU trailed by 27 points.
Then, it happened.
“We just started clicking,” Marshall running back Keion Davis said. “Had a couple of electrifying plays.”
The first four second-half possessions ended like this: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. It was like Marshall coach Doc Holliday, offensive coordinator Bill Legg and quarterback Chase Litton tapped the side of the Heinz 57 bottle and the offense flowed right out.
It ultimately wasn’t enough as Pitt held on for a 43-27 win against Marshall in front of 45,246 here in the Steel City. A seemingly safe 27-0 halftime advantage by Pitt was trimmed to 30-27 with 4:01 when Davis bullied his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run. Two Panthers scores in the final 64 seconds – a 54-yard touchdown pass on third down and a 33-yard interception return on the game’s final play – brought us to the final score.
“We played our football,” Litton said on the second-half shift. “We had the crowd on our side; we had the sideline on our side. We played our football. But you can’t expect to win a game going down 27 to zero at half, not putting up any points in the first half.
“That’s on us as an offensive unit. We’ve got to get better.”
Marshall (1-3) struggled to find its offensive footing in the first half, compiling 102 yards on 21 plays. The Herd, however, found its rhythm after intermission and scored on four consecutive possessions with four different players.
The first score came with 9:12 left of the third quarter when Litton found Josh Knight in the left corner of the end zone. Knight beat the defender and laid out for the diving catch, his third touchdown in four games. He finished with six receptions and 49 yards.
Holliday then called for an onside kick, which was executed perfectly by kicker Amoreto Curraj to Knight, who ran unimpeded down the right side of the field for the recovery. Eight plays and 47 yards later it was sophomore running back Anthony Anderson who wiggled his way through the Pitt defense for an 11-yard scoring run, the first of his Division I career.
Anderson finished with 13 carries and a career-high 56 yards.
“Anthony is a tremendous back,” Litton said. “He really opened it up for us.”
Pitt answered with a field goal to make it 30-14, but the Herd responded with its longest and most efficient drive of the game – a two-play, 86-yard possession that ended when Litton found 6-foot-7 receiver Michael Clark for an 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
It was Clark’s fourth touchdown in as many games, but by far his longest one. In fact, it was the first 80-plus-yard reception by a Herd receiver since Oct. 13, 2010 against UCF (Aaron Dobson, 86 yards, from Eddie Sullivan).
Clark finished with four catches for a career-high 147 yards, more than doubling his season output to date (115 yards in three games).
“He is a talented guy who hasn’t played a lot of football,” Holliday said. “He’ll get better as the season goes along.”
Following Clark’s touchdown, the Herd missed on a 2-point conversion attempt and trailed by 10 points, 30-20.
Pitt devoured five minutes, 44 seconds off the clock on the ensuing possession, but failed on a fourth-down attempt at the Herd 33. Marshall then marched 67 yards on 12 plays, punctuated by Davis’ 1-yard scoring run. At 30-27, it was the closet the Herd would get.
“We just had to find ourselves,” Davis said. “Young team. Our guys got to develop, make plays.”
“We could be special,” he added.
Davis finished with a team-high 68 yards on 12 attempts. He helped reverse a first half short on first downs, as 15 of Marshall’s 18 first downs came after halftime.
Litton finished 20 of 32 passing for 240 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown a touchdown pass in all 14 of his collegiate games, and he has multi-TD games in 11 of 14.
Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman finished 17 of 23 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers were led in rushing by Chawntez Moss, who has 97 yards on 12 carries. James Conner, Maurice Ffrench and George Aston each had rushing touchdowns for Pitt (3-2, 0-1 in the ACC). Jester Weah paced the Pitt receiving corps with seven receptions for 176 yards.
The loss wraps up Marshall’s non-conference schedule. The Herd next travels to Denton, Texas, to face the University of North Texas, which dropped to 2-3 after Saturday’s loss to Middle Tennessee. It will be MU's Conference USA opener.
After Marshall fell short against Pitt, Holliday was neither surprised his team rallied nor content with the end result.
“Our program’s too far along to think our guys are going to go out there and quit,” he said. “There’s no moral victories just because we got that thing close. We’re disappointed. That locker room is a mess because we didn’t win the game.”