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2014 Marshall game page

Marshall 41, Rice 14


Jowan Davis slogs for tough yardage against Marshall; the Rice rushing output this day was its lowest of the season (PTH photo)

HUNTINGTON, WV (Nov. 16) – When Marshall quarterback Rakim Cato threaded a perfectly-thrown, 24-yard touchdown pass to his receiver, Hyleck Foster, to boost the Thundering Herd to a 17-0 lead over the Rice Owls Saturday, 6:56 remained in the half.

At that point, the home team had rolled to 220 yards total offense, while the visiting Owls had all of 20, with two first downs, one of them by way of penalty.

We’d prefer to be able to say that it was such a slow start that doomed the Owls to a close, hard-fought, but disappointing defeat, but in fact the bad start out of the blocks really didn’t matter much.

The game was hard-fought; the result was disappointing, but close, it wasn't. Not even halfway close.

Jordan Taylor, the only Owl non-running-back to catch a pass all day, was philosophical afterwards.

“They came to play today,” he told us, referring to 21st-ranked, now 10-0, Herd. “Obviously we came in wanting to run the ball a bit and they did a good job stopping that. It forced us to try to throw the ball a little more in some situations where we really didn’t want to.

“But you’ve got to give all the credit to them. They came to play. They were hungry,” Jordan said, giving a little West Virginia twist to the word “hungry.”

“We just couldn’t get a rhythm on offense. They did a good job stopping us; we couldn’t execute as well as we would have liked – and the result was 14 points and a butt-kicking.”

Well, JT, that just about sizes it up. Could put a “-30-“ on this writeup and start thinking about UTEP, but what the heck, we’re paid by the word, so here goes....

In fact, the quote of the day goes to Rice head coach David Bailiff.

“We came here expecting to win,” he insisted afterwards. “They outplayed us. We have played A&M and we have played Notre Dame. Marshall is right up there with those guys.”

The Marshall players and fans glommed onto that statement like thirsty men in a desert. National scribes and those who vote in the polls have given the Herd scant attention despite their unblemished record, much to the chagrin of the locals. So the radio talk shows and the morning paper headlines echoed the sentiments of Rice’s head man.

“He’s a great coach,” Marshall running back Devon Johnson said of Coach Bailiff in the locker room afterwards. Not so great, one hastens to add, so as to devise a scheme to prevent the senior tight-end-turned bullish running back from rolling to 199 yards rushing on the day, giving him a total of 471 yards on the ground in his last two starts.

That 199-yard output by the remarkably well-spoken Johnson was 19 yards more than Rice's entire offensive output for the day.

It was the addition of Johnson’s pile-driving runs to the witches’ brew that makes the Marshall offense well-nigh unstoppabled, according to David Bailif.

“In my opinion, he’s the difference,” Coach Bailiff said. “Cato was great last year but they really didn’t have this kind of rushing attack to depend on. When he touches the football, he’s got a full head of steam; he’s got great vision down the field; hard to bring down – he’s that element that was missing last season.”

Both teams appear sluggish at onset, but Cato gets Herd off schneid

But it was the quarterbacking wizardry of Rakeem Cato, in fact, that  got Marshall off the schneid late in the first quarter. Both teams appeared sluggish at the start.

Marshall elected to defer, having won the toss, so the Owls got the ball first.

Driphus Jackson picked up four yards on the zone read, first down. Then Jowan Davis plied the line, but only managed a couple. On third and four, the Rice offensive line was unable to contain the Marshall rush, and DJ was dropped for a loss of 11, so the Owls’ opening possession ended ignominiously.

But Marshall was able to fashion only a single first down on its first possession. Still, that was enough to maintain field position, as after the ensuing punt, the Owls had to start at their own 9 yard line. Driphus immediately hit Darik Dillard coming out the backfield for 9 yards and a first down on third and five.

But then a couple of plays later, Mario Hall went deep, was open, but Marshall’s James Rouse caused a quarterback hurry, and Driphus’ pass plopped harmlessly to the turf about about ten yards away from Mario. A completion there would have meant six. Or at least goal-to-go. Didn’t happen.

Marshall, in response, was able to set a pace which whjch it managed to maintain until the game was out of reach. Rather than big plays, the Herd contented itself with the short stuff, dinking short passes, sideline quick outs, mostly, for five or 6 yards at a punch , but converting third downs at every turn.

The Herd held the ball for 14 plays, and reached as far as a Rice 6 yard line, but there on third and goal, Zach Patt sacked Cato for a loss of five, and the locals had to settle for a chip-shot three.

It looked as if in keeping the home team to a field-goal, the Owls had dodged a bullet. But a three-and-out on Rice’s next possession was a brutal fail, merely set up Marshall for another long drive. This time, the Herd held the ball for 11 plays, covering 59 yards, scoring on first and goal at the Rice two on a jump pass from Cato to Ryan Yurachek. (Memo to Ryan: that’s not how to spell your name. It’s “Jurecek.”)

The Owls managed but a single first down on their next possession, and that, on account of a holding call. Another punt out, and another long drive for Marshall; this time, 85 yards, eight plays, and it was 17-0.

At that point, it was do-or-die for the Rice offense, and in response, the unit showed signs of life. Two straight completions to Jordan Taylor produced a pair of first downs, and then Jowan Davis banged the line twice more and the Owls were looking at first and 10 at the Marshall 40.

But there, a Dillard plunge into the line got nothing, and two straight pass attempts never really managed to develop.

James Farrimond punted to the Marshall nine, and on the first play, QB Cato uncharacteristically appeared to just put the ball up for grabs deep down the middle. The pill was intercepted by Bryce Callahan, playing centerfield at the 50, and he returned it all the way to the Marshall 17.

Owls converted turnover into score; made it look like a ball game for a while

From there, the Owls managed to punch across their only meaningful touchdown of the day, abetted by a key completion from Driphus to Jordan Taylor for 18 yards to the Marshall three on third and 14. Jowan Davis plunged in for the touchdown on the next play, and it was 17-7, with two minutes to go in the half. Still a ball game, maybe.

The Owl defense chose to bend a bit at this point, and Marshall took advantage of it. First play, Devon Johnson found a hole up the middle, and rambled for 42 yards to the Rice 30. Next play, Johnson went 19 more to the Rice 11.

At that point, the Rice defense stiffened, thanks to key stops by Alex Lyons, Dylan Klare and Brian Nordstrom. So MJU had to settle for a Justin Haig chip shot field-goal as the halftime clock expired.

Clearly, it was imperative that the Owls stop Marshall on its opening possession of the third quarter, and sure enough, they did just that. Joe Ballard got in a great stick of Marshall’s DeAndre Reeves at the Marshall 19 on the kickoff.

Ross Winship nailed Devon Johnson for gain of one, and then forced a quarterback hurry on third and eight. Marshall’s Tyler Williams punted out 48 yards to the Rice 31, and it looked like the Owls were finally in business.

But they simply weren’t. Again, the offense could not get untracked. A holding penalty bogged down the proceedings after a Jowan Davis first-down plunge. Marshall fair-caught the ensuing punt at its 26, and blew in for the another score, moving 70 yards in six plays, the final 30 yards coming from Cato to his receiver Eric Frohnappel..

When the Owl offense failed to move the ball on its next possession, the handwriting was on the wall. Marshall immediately responded with another scoring drive, moving 50 yards in 10 plays, mostly on the strength of Johnson’s running.

Next possession, the Owls finally caught a break when James Farrimond’s punt hit a Herdsman’s knee and was alertly jumped on by Nick Elder at the Marshall 24. It was a chance, maybe, to generate some offense and at least make it close. That didn’t happen either.

The Rice offense failed to move; had to give up the ball once more, and Marshall followed by cranking up another long Devon Johnson-based drive, covering 94 yards in 10 plays, making it 41-7 with just under 10 minutes left in the contest.

Now, with the game in hand, Doc Holliday sent out his second defensive unit, and the Owl offense responded with a 75-yard drive, employing the only two offensive weapons that seemed to be available to them – the short pass to Jordan Taylor, and the quick handoff to Jowan Davis. Darik Dillard took it in from 10 yards out to make it 41-14 with five minutes remaining in the game, and that’s how it ended.

Figure it out. Rice ended the game with only 180 yards total offense. Net out that last drive, and it adds up to a 105-yard day, first unit against first unit.

“They had a good, solid defense,” Coach Bailiff said afterwards. “I don’t remember it from a year ago.”

“We came here expecting to win. We have a good football team. We didn’t play very well tonight, but Marshall had a lot to do with that. They deserve to be ranked.” 

--P.T.H.


HUNTINGTON, WV (Nov. 13) – If you pay any attention to just about anybody who has an opinion on the upcoming Rice-Marshall game, the visiting Owls just might as well Save the Equipment and stay home on Saturday.

Betting lines started in the high teens and as of today have risen to the neighborhood of 23 or 24. Put another way – Vegas prognostications show only three other FBS games with a bigger underdog than are the Rice Owls against the undefeated Thundering Herd.

Yup, out of some 50-plus football games on the board, this one is expected to wind up among the top four most one-sided.

And, who knows, so it may turn out to be. Why is Marshall thought well-nigh unbeatable at home, especially this Saturday? Let us count the ways.

First, to state the obvious, the team, and its fans, have revenge on their minds; and in fact, having been stewing over last year’s loss to Rice in the league championship game ever since.

Marshall followers were highly indignant last year when the Herd lost a tie-breaker to the Owls and wound up having to travel to Houston for the Dec. 6 contest between these two foes.

Their ire rose further when they observed, out loud and ad nauseam, “Waalll, thar ain’t nobody in them there stayunds! They ain’t got nobody at th’ game!”

In fact, Rice had sold some 23,000 tickets in the six days preceding the championship contest, and expected a walk-up of five to six thousand more, when a sharp cold front blew through the Bayou City and kept the walkup crowd at home, along with a few thousand ticket holders.

Saturday, though, one is warned, it’s gonna be different. Marshall has had all year to tout this game, to sell tickets for it; all the while contemplating ways in which the Owls might be not merely beaten, but given their just deserts via total obliteration.

And the crowd – just wait, it's said;  there’ll be a packed house of rabid Herd fans maintaining an impenetrable din for three and a half hours, nonstop....in fact, based on tickets sales thus far, there’ll be, let’s see, there’ll be, well, with, what, about 23,000 tickets sold so far.....hmmmm...

Now, before proceeding, set aside for a moment the fact that virtually every Herd contributor on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball was dressed out and on the field last December in Houston when the Owls ran off with a 41-24 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

That was the only time the Marshalls have lost in their last 25 games. In fact, this Marshall team has been impressive from top to bottom, all season.

All-league quarterback Rakim Cato wasn’t exactly a world-beater in last year’s championship game, wherein he spent a good part of the afternoon being sat down on his duff. But he hasn’t had a bad game all season. Perhaps he is due for one.

Cato indeed has had a stellar senior year thus far, tossing for 2,316 yards and 22 touchdowns in nine games, with only six interceptions given up.

He’s got an impressive bevy of running backs behind him, led by Devon Johnson, who gained 272 yards and scored four touchdowns against league foe Florida Atlantic.

Johnson suited out for last week’s game with Southern Miss, but was held out of action by MU head coach Doc Holliday with a bruised knee. He’s said to be 100 per cent and ready to rumble on Saturday.

Johnson paces an MU running attack that has averaged just under 300 yards on the season, good for sixth overall among FBS teams. It’s a run game that appeared not really to need Devon last time out against USM, when his backups, Remi Watson and Steward Butler, frolicked on the turf.

Herd runners picked up 335 yards and scored seven touchdowns against the Golden Eagles. Watson ran for three touchdowns and scored another on a pass reception. Butler ran for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns -- on only five carries.

Owl fans may remember from last year Tommy Shuler, a veteran Herd wideout who leads the team with 526 receiving yards and six TDs. This season, he teams up with freshman Angelo Jean-Louis, who’s caught for 396 yards on four touchdowns himself.

If there is an Achilles heel for the Herd, it may lie in its rushing defense, however. Last week, USM came out running, driving 80 yards on the ground for the game’s opening score, and following that up with a recovery of a surprise onsides kick, then rolling to another TD on the ground.

So just like the Owls last year, the Eagles piled up a quick 14-0 lead against the Marshalls. But thereafter the worm turned, as MU outscored USM 63-3 the rest of the afternoon.

The week before, the Herd trailed at halftime to Florida Atlantic before pulling away late in the game for a 35-16 victory.

In fact, the Herd defense has allowed more than 20 points in a game only twice this season. Its 16.6 points per game allowed average ranks sixth among FBS teams.

Top defenders are linebacker Neville Hewitt, who has 69 tackles on the year, and defensive linemen Arnold Blackmon, who’s the sack leader with five, plus 9.5 TFLs, and James Rouse, with eight tackles for loss.

Marshall has simply waltzed through its first nine games, blowing everybody out. League teams that Rice has beaten by 15 or 20, have been massacred by MU by 35 or more.

But you know football coaches. Coach Holliday said he and his charges will not be be taking Rice lightly at all – not after the whupping the Owls put on them in last year’s championship game.

"To have a team the caliber of Rice coming in, that's big," Coach Holliday said earlier this week. "David Bailiff has them extremely well-coached. I don't have to say anything to our guys. That's the team that beat us 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.”

Apparently most of the football world doesn’t think that’ll be necessary, though.

--P.T.H.