BOGACZYK: Herd `Rocky' Early, Then Rolls Again
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 9, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Marshall couldn’t "Rock" ‘em, but the Herd socked ‘em anyway.
Without injured running back Devon "Rockhead" Johnson and his 1,200-yard season, nationally ranked Marshall kept rolling Saturday night as one of the three remaining unbeaten teams in major college football.
Running backs Stew Butler and Remi Watson and quarterback Rakeem Cato did plenty of legwork in Johnson’s knee-injured absence, and the Herd overcame an early two-touchdown deficit to rout host Southern Miss, 63-17.
The Herd’s scoreboard total was the fifth-highest for MU since 1940.
Coach Doc Holliday’s team rushed for seven of its nine touchdowns, the most ground scores for a Marshall team since the program’s first NCAA Division I-AA title season of 1992, when MU ran for eight TDs in a 63-28 Week 2 victory over an Eastern Illinois team that had an assistant coach named Bill Legg.
Yeah, that Bill Legg … the same offensive coordinator whose Herd impressive attack has produced 22 games of 40 or more points and 500 or more yards in the last 35 outings.
Thanks to a first-possession score and conversion of a drive from an onside kick, the Golden Eagles (3-7, 1-5 Conference USA) led 14-0 after nine-plus minutes. Marshall (9-0, 5-0) allowed only a second-quarter Corey Acosta field goal the rest of the way.
"I was surprised by the onside kick because you don’t normally do that," Holliday said of the first successful onside kick in a C-USA game this season. "Bottom line we should have made the play. They did a tremendous job of executing that … giving them credit. But you have got to make that play."
And on a night when Cato took three of Chad Pennington’s career school records – for pass attempts and completions and total offense yards – the Herd success was rooted in the ground game again.
Butler carried only five times but ran for 118 yards, including an 83-yard score to open the fourth quarter – the longest run by a Herd player since the last unbeaten season, an 87-yarder by Doug Chapman against BYU in the 1999 Motor City Bowl.
"It’s repeating itself, isn’t it?" said Butler, whose run was the longest of his career – and 12th of 30 or more yards for the junior back.
Watson got his first start since November 2012 and scored four touchdowns – three on the ground – while rushing for 49 yards, while Cato just missed giving MU a 13th 100-yard game this season with 92. And after the deal was sealed, freshman Tony Pittman ran for a 26-yard score – his first career TD – while backup QB Gunnar Holcombe rambled 41 yards with an option keeper.
"We just wanted to let the fans know that we’re still here," Butler said, "and we’ve got a good running game. The (offensive) line is still holding its ground … Once I get past the linebackers, I know I can score.’
The Herd ran for 335 yards and is now averaging 295 rushing yards per game.
"That’s a big statement," Butler said. "I love my offensive line, arguably one of the best in the country, I think. That’s my opinion."
The Herd front, led by veteran center Chris Jasperse, had its way with the Golden Eagles. It also allowed only one sack, and has permitted only six sacks in the last eight games.
"It’s business as usual," Jasperse said of the Herd overcoming the early 14-0 deficit. "Coach told us all week we’re planning to play without Rock. Coach (Alex) Mirabal (offensive line coach), says, ‘It’s on us, and we’ve got to show we’re the reason we’re rushing for all of these yards. We wanted to get after that defensive front and let Stew and Remi, who don’t get a lot of carries, go in and get some work in. It was fun to see them have the games they did.
"A lot of people thought that maybe since Rockhead wasn’t playing and we were on the road, we’d be done, but those guys just go in there and we don’t miss a beat. They do a great job running the ball."
Marshall’s offensive efficiency remains in the stratosphere. The Herd has run only 53, 59 and 57 plays (169 total) in the last three games, but has scored 143 points with 1,524 yards over that span with a time of possession deficiency of 39:22.
Now, it’s on to a Saturday afternoon home rematch of last season’s C-USA Championship Game, as Rice (6-3, 4-1) brings a six-game winning streak into Edwards Stadium, where the Herd has won 12 in a row – tied for the third longest win streak in the country.
Marshall has won 10 in a row overall, so Saturday’s 2:30 kickoff matches two of the eight longest current win streaks in the FBS. Johnson also is expected back for the kind of game that could play well for the Herd with the pollsters.
"It’s a huge weekend," Holliday said. "With the Memorial Fountain service on Friday (the 44th anniversary of the football team plane crash) and then Coach (Dan) D’Antoni opening basketball season that night and we have our new Hall of Fame opening (pregame Saturday), too.
"And then to have a team the caliber of Rice coming in, that’s big. David Bailiff has them extremely well-coached. I don’t have to say anything to our guys. That’s the team that beat us (41-24) down at their place for the conference championship last year, beat us physically, beat us up.
"We’re going to have to play extremely well. They’re coming here with six wins in a row, and I’m sure there’s a reason they’ve won six straight games. You know they’ll be well-prepared and we’ve got to be the same."
Defensively, the Herd owned the second half at Southern Miss. Tackle James Rouse consistently disrupted Golden Eagle run plays, and he and end Arnold Blackmon had two sacks apiece among Marshall’s six.
USM was held to 3-of-13 on third down conversions, and the Golden Eagles managed only 114 second-half yards.
"We were moving too fast," Blackmon said of the Herd defense’s early issues. "We were hyped up, being someplace different, their fans were into it. We had to calm down, not be jumping around. We were too jittery. We just had to start doing our jobs the way we can. Once we calmed down and started playing ball the way Marshall plays ball, we were fine."
Southern Miss, once the C-USA bell cow, has dropped four in a row to Marshall and the Herd has won the last three of those by a combined score of 183-54.
"The kids just started doing their jobs, started executing," Holliday said. "We had some adversity right away, didn’t handle it well, but I really liked the way we stuck with things. We came back and played well the rest of the game."
Jasperse said the Herd’s success – Marshall has won 15 of its last 16 games -- made a difference, too.
"Absolutely, two years ago, we wouldn’t have found a way to win that game after being down like that so fast," the senior center said. "We just hadn’t been there then. But now, with all of our experience and guys who have played and our coaches said, ‘Just stay the course.’ We see adversity, and we just keep going, keep plugging."
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: Cato now owns the Marshall career passing records for completions (1,031) and attempts (1,634). He also passed Pennington in total offense. The senior quarterback stands at 13,196 yards … Cato’s two scoring passes gave him a 41st consecutive game with a TD pass, the major college record. Only two NCAA quarterbacks have longer streaks, both in lower divisions (46 by Mike Reilly, Central Washington, 2005-08, Division II record; and 42 by Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross, 2006-09, FCS record) … On his 22nd birthday, slot receiver Tommy Shuler -- Cato’s Miami and Marshall buddy -- caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Shuler stayed at No. 3 on the MU career catches list with 269 (Josh Davis 306, Darius Watts 272), and moved into the No. 5 spot in receiving yards (2,951). His 22nd career TD tied Shuler with Jim Swierczek (1951-53) for No. 10 in Herd history … Justin Haig booted nine extra points, moving him to 195 for his career and into the No. 2 spot in C-USA career PATs … Kickoff man Kaare Vedvik had seven touchbacks in 10 boots, earning Holliday’s praise … With 41 scrimmage plays of 30 or more yards in nine games, Marshall is the FBS leader, ahead of the 33 by Georgia Southern and Colorado State with 33 (in 10 games) … Jasperse made his team-leading 48th career start (every game he’s played at MU) … Marshall has trailed for only 30 minutes, 27 seconds in 540 game minutes this season … The Herd is the only major college team to have scored at least 35 points in every game this season, and Saturday’s victory was the 12th time the Herd has scored 50 or more points under Holliday. Former Coach Jim Donnan’s teams (1990-95) hold the mark with 15 scoreboard totals of 50.