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Rice - Marshall game page

Rice 41, Marshall 24
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Taylor, Turner, Ross, McHargue propel offensive onslaught while defense shuts down Marshall run game, contains Cato
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As Charles Ross (R) gets the handoff and a two-man escort, Marshall defender looks outnumbered, outmanned and outplayed; that was the story of the game (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Dec. 8) – Perhaps the time has now come for Rice’s old grads to concede, alright, now we can die and go to heaven.

Or are we there already?

While it may not yet be heaven, it certainly isn’t Iowa. With the Owls’ inspirational 41-24 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd Saturday afternoon, the old Institute secured its first outright conference football championship since 1957.

Now, at last, so many long-suffering alumni and supporters were finally able to heave in a deep breath of the rarified air of ultimate victory that has escaped their lungs for ever so long.

And it felt just a tiny bit about what heaven just has to be like.

So thorough was Rice’s domination of a Marshall team that had come into the game having just blasted through five straight opponents, leaving more damage than the State Farm Mayhem Man along the way, that absolutely no doubt was left as to the superior ball club in Conference USA, or, for that matter, the bona fides of this Rice team – and program – in general.

So flawless was the team’s execution and the coaching staff’s game plan, poor old Doc Holliday, the head man for the Thundering Herd, could be seen pacing up and down the visitors sideline all afternoon, wearing the walleyed look of a stunned, demented drill sergeant who’d just lost his entire outfit to sneak attack.

It was a statement-making knockout punch thrown by Rice’s senior leadership that, over a matter of a few hours’ time on a cold, grey, windy day, rendered the entire course of Rice’s desert wandering during the Bailiff years suddenly make sense, the chess pieces all seeming to fall somehow into place, leaving those who occasionally had been naysayers scratching their heads and wondering what went right.

What did go right for this Owl team? Plenty went right on the turf of Rice Stadium on a Pearl Harbor Day on which the Owls won themselves a league championship. To say that Rice used a punishing ground game to set up its passing attack would be true and correct – but then again just the opposite proposition would be equally the case, and probably providential.

With the Marshall defense obviously set up to defend the run on the game’s opening series, the wily Owls came out flinging the football on the their first three plays. When senior quarterback Taylor McHargue threaded the needle to a leaping Jordan Taylor for a 14-yard completion and a crucial third down conversion, little did the West Virginny boys realize the foundation for their complete demolition had just been laid.

When the Owls came back pounding four straight running play up the gut, including six and nine-yard pickups by Charles Ross, they were able to move steadily downfield as the Herd defenders appeared to say, OK, that’s more like what we were expecting, and as the MU defensive linemen bucked their heads and the linebackers filled the gaps.

Enter one "Bob" – eventually-to-be-named Game MVP Luke Turner – playing his halfback's role to the hilt, heading wide, lowering his shoulder just a bit as if to take on the defensive end, immediately gaining the commitment of both the DE and the trailing cornerback, and then suddenly rising up and delivering a perfect strike to a wide open Donte Moore, sauntering toward the end zone 35 yards away. Boom! Owls, 7-0, just a couple of minutes into the game – and mass confusion on the visitors’ sideline.

"When I caught the pitch, I made sure it was going to be a wide-open pass," Luke explained, "and I just laid it up like I usually do in practice; just did what I was coached. If they cover it, then I can pull it down and run – which they didn’t."

Well-planned offensive possession followed by solid defensive stop

Optimally, such an audacious offensive opening act should be followed by a defensive three-and-out, and that’s exactly what the Owls got on their first defensive effort. The big play was an eight-yard sack of MU quarterback Rakeem Cato by Owl senior DE Cody Bauer, who swooped deep, then wide, then across to nail the elusive Marshall signal caller as he tried to dance out of the pocket.

Three plays later, the Owls had the ball back on  their own 25. Play action pass it was, and Jordan Taylor streaked downfield. TMac let go an arcing mortar toss of a throw, which was caught midstride by the 6-5 junior wideout, who then stretched into high gear and outran two Marshall defenders 75 yards for the score. Just less than midway into the first quarter, the Owls were up by two touchdowns.

Marshall was able to move the ball on its ensuing possession, QB Cato hitting his two favorite receivers, Tommy Schuler and Gator Hoskins, for sizable gainers. But once in the Rice red zone, the Herd stalled when Alex Lyons and Tanner Leland put up big defensive plays, and the Herd had to settle for a 27-yard Justin Haig field goal.

Like a swarm of frenzied bees, the Owls roared right back, covering 62 yards in only four plays to take a 21-3 lead. TMac threw two laser strikes along the way, the first an over-the-shoulder variety for 28 yards to Darion Pollard, and the next a sweet intentional underthrow that Jordan Taylor was able to come back underneath his coverage   and scoop up 20 yards downfield.

On first and ten from the Marshall 14, Charles in Charge took the staight-up handoff and bulled forward for ten yards, pulling three Herd defenders with him. Next play, same call, but this time Chuck picked his hole and poked his head into the end zone.

Marshall did reply with its only meaningful scoring drive of the game, cutting the Owls’ lead to 21-10 with a 65-yard, eight-play sequence. The big play was a 27-yard strike from Cato to Gator Hoskins that carried to the Rice one yard line, with MU’s Devon Johnson sneaking over on the next play.

The Owls successfully played the field position game for the remainder of the first half, but were uanble to pick up any points out of the gambit – a cause for minor concern among the worry-warts.

Rice first ground out an incipient drive which reached as far as the Marshall 47 yard line, where the Owls faced fourth and two. But TMac was unable to coax the Marshall defense offside, and what with the way the gullible Herd defenders were falling for almost every ploy, it came as somewhat of a surprise when they managed to stay put in the event.

However, after the resulting intentional delay-of-game penalty, James Ferrimond pooch-kicked 45 yards to the Marshall 7 yard line, and the Herd had little room to roam as the halftime clock ticked down.

Cody Hennessee and Josh Skinner nailed Marshall’s Stuart Butler for no gain on second down, and then James Radcliffe snuffed out a Cato completion to Butler for scant yardage, forcing Marshall to punt out from beneath the shadow of its goal.

The Owls, in return were unable to move the ball, despite starting with excellent field position at their own 48. This time, on fourth and four, Taylor McHargue quick-kicked 38 yards to the Marshall eight, and it was déjà vu all over again for the Thundering Herd.

Marshall managed a single first down before having to give up possession once more. Somewhat alarmingly, the Rice offense stalled for the third time in a row, and this time James Ferrimond again pooch-punted underneath the Marshall deep backs, rolling his kick 49 yards to the Marshall eight before it was downed by a bevy of Owl special teamers.

Thus, Rice had ended the half with three straight defensive gems, and three straight almost- perfect punts, but had no more points to show for their efforts, giving what turned out to be an unwarranted pause to some of the skeptics in the studio audience.

Owls led 21-10 at half -- not nearly enough, given Marshall firepower

Marshall was to receive the third quarter kickoff, and it seemed that an emphatic defensive stop would really not be all that bad an idea. One score, and MU would be right back in the thick of things. Sure enough, with some halftime adjustments to the offensive playbook, the Herd cranked up the short passing game to drive as far as the Rice 40 yard line.

But at that point Cato tried to force a big-yardage play, and in response, the Owls’ Julius White came on and made Rice’s defensive play of the game. Rakeem took a short drop and sent the ball 20 yards downfield in the direction of his favorite receiver, Tommy Schuler, but Julius timed his defense perfectly, employing a bit of plane geometry to converge on the ball and receiver, and making the interception at the Rice 22 to shut down the drive.

That was big. In fact, that was huge.

"Just a bad ball," the taciturn Marshall quarterback Cato said of Julius’ pick. "He made a hell of a catch."

It took the Owls a couple of possessions to get cranked up again, but meanwhile, the defense held the fort, and once the Rice offense got untracked, it was unstoppable for the remainder of the game.

Next operating from their own 39, the Owls bulled 61 yards and seven plays, every  one of them on the ground. Most of the series featured the Wild Owl, through which Luke Turner punished the Marshall defensive front for runs of nine, six, five and five yards. Then on first and 10 at the Marshall 17, Derek Dillard took the quick pitch, ran wide, found a lane down the sideline, and threaded all the way home for the score.

When Chris Boswell’s PAT attempt bounced off the goalpost and back onto the field, that kept the tally at 27-10 with 5:34 remaining in the third quarter.

The Rice defense promptly three-and-outed the Herd after Gabe Baker made a resounding special-teams tackle of Marshall’s DeAndre Reeves on his kickoff return.

Next Rice series, the Owl offense exhibited a grab bag of offensive tactics, first employing Charles Ross up the middle with Taylor McHargue at the helm, and next Derek Dillard to the outside with Luke Turner taking the snap. In between, TMac hit Dennis Parks for a 37 yard grab-and-go to the Marshall 19, the lanky Rice receiver completely overpowering his overmatched Marshall defender.

On third and two at the Marshall 11, Luke Turner was back, and once again sucked in the Herd defensive middle by feigning a dive, but then rising up and throwing an old-timey jump pass to Connor Cella who was wide open in the end zone for the score.

Thus the versatile Rice running back qua quarterback was two-for-two passing on the game, with both tosses going for touchdowns. How’s that for a day at the office?

"They didn't understand what we were doing," Turner explained to press at the postgame interview session.

(Note to enemy defenses: when "Bob" comes in wearing thigh pads, high-top shoes and a leather helmet, it usually means he’s going to pull some kind of old-fashioned trickeration out of the bag.)

The third quarter thus ended with the Owls up 34-10, and it was almost, but not quite, time to start the celebration. But the Rice students, both those dressed in football uniforms on the west sideline, and those in various manner of nerd garb in the east grandstand, began to get all loosey-goosey, big grins popping out on face after face.

Marshall did come back with a 78-yard drive that was kept alive by an iffy pass interference call against the Owls on fourth and six at the Rice 14. Two plays later, a scrambling Cato found Essray Taliafero loose in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown reception, and that made it 34-17 with 11 minutes remaining in the game.

Big day for Owl punter Ferrimond

Marshall team and fans got a minor shot of adrenalin when Rice failed to get untracked on its next possession, and had to punt out, but James Ferrimond quickly scotched glimmering hope by booming away a 55 yard beauty to pen back the Herd deep in their own territory.

With just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, it was now four-down time for the West Virginians, and after Malcolm Hill broke up a Cato-to-Tommy Schuler pass on third and one, Michael Kutzler stormed in to emphatically nail Devon Johnson for no gain on fourth and short.

Marshall thus had to turn the ball over at their own 38 yard line with 8:59 remaining in the game, and it was then time to commence the Rice victory watch.

Three plays later, Charles Ross took the handoff, feinted away from a clogged interior line, and bounced wide left for 16 yards and the score, making the tally Rice 41, Marshall 17, and starting the on-sideline and in-stands celebration in earnest.

Marshall did manage to pick up one more garbage-time score, but the Owls were able to hold onto the ball for the last 5:35 of the contest, after special-teamer Klein Kubiak wisely batted the inevitably ensuing loose, crazily bouncing, onsides kick out of bounds and thus dead and unrecoverable. Down the field marched the Flock, running the game clock down to zero, aided, in part, by six successful Derek Dillard punches into the line.

The Thundering Herd wound up with 371 yards total offense – well under its per-game average – and matched its lowest one-game points total of the year while Owl defenders sacked MU quarterback Rakeem Cato three times.

"Keeping Cato in the pocket was really the key," said Owl senior DE and on-field coach Cody Bauer. "I mean, that kid can do some amazing things when he scrambles."

Rice thus claimed its first outright conference title since Dean Wormer was a larva – well, actually, since 1957 and Frank Ryan, King Hill and Buddy Dial were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters.

"This has been a long journey for this class," senior Rice quarterback said afterwards. "We went through some hard times. But this is unbelievable, finishing like this."

Still, the best rush of the game was still to come. While a jubilant Owl squad surrounded the trophy presentation podium at midfield, the Rice study body, a good 2,500 strong, was held back by the Houston city po-pos, hired by the league fathers to police the facility and keep the notorious Rice mobs off he field and away from the goalposts. (Must’ve not gotten the memo that, at Rice, it’s "the M.O.B.," and not "frenzied mobs." Oh, well, zero tolerance and all.)

Speaking of zero tolerance, word came back, possibly apocryphal, that one enthusiastic Rice student was tazered by an HPD as he attempted to take the field post-game.  Whatever the circumstances, the situation was beginning to get ridiculous until Rice number-two-man AD Rick Mello, viewing the commotion from field level,  was seized by common sense and motioned the weanies to "come on down."

Over they came, rushing onto the field in a paroxysm of joy and feeling of oneness with their football-playing classmates. That is:  their champion football-playing fellow Rice students.

And for a moment that stands to linger, the Rice student body was truly one. "Wow, that was such an incredible sight to look over across the field to see," Rice head coach David Bailiff said after the game. "I’m not sure every single student on campus was out there today."

"That was a great sight."


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HOUSTON (Dec. 5) -- It borders on the trite to start off with mention of the decades-long drought on South Main leading up to Saturday's C-USA championship game between the Rice Owls and the Thundering Herd of Marshall University. But there it is.

You probably weren't born the last time a single Rice football game entailed such trophy-case implications. Rice head coach David Bailiff wasn't alive yet. Most of the parents of the current Rice squad were yet to make an appearance on this orb.

Yet here we are: instead of 1957, suddenly it's 2013 -- how time flies -- and the dear old Institute has once again resumed its David-like stance, slingshot at the ready, against the Goliaths of college football, just as it once did in the days of chrome and tail fins.

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Words of encouragement and kudos are coming in from all around. Well, coming in except from the hills and hollers of West Virginia where Rice, owing to perceived collusive skulduggery with the league office, is now ranked in dignity and basic human worth somewhere beneath the Pinkertons at Matewan.

Guess the Flock can somehow manage to stomach that, now having been assuaged by fact that the Institute has America's Most Beloved Living President  signing on as an active Owl Backer in this one.

It seems that at Monday's presser, Rice head coach David Bailiff downplayed the global significance of this game. "I'd love to tell you that I got this unbelievable e-mail from former President Bush, but it just didn't happen," DB quipped.  "I'm waiting on it. President Bush -- if you're watching, send me an e-mail."

So sure enough, Bush 41, a former Rice adjunct professor, did better than that. A couple days later, the phone call came in from Poppy. "Barbara and I are delighted and wish you a great victory coming up," President Bush the Elder told Coach Bailiff. "And thank you for being a good man for our school."

Did you get that, Herdsmen? "OUR school." Game, set, match. Now on to some football talk.

Nope, first, on to some weather talk. Conditions may be deteriorating even beyond that forecasted for Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff. Instead of 39 degrees and raining, it may be worse than that.

So all of a sudden "ball security" becomes the order of the day. Ever since the North Texas game, the Owls have developed a tendency to give up crucial turnovers. In the games where they have done so, they've lost, or had it taken to the wire. When they have not, they've romped.

The Owls were dominating UNT early in the second quarter when Charles Ross coughed up a scoop ‘n score fumble returned 55 yards for a touchdown that got the Mean Green out of an early funk.

Two weeks ago, against UAB, the Owls were in the process of assembling a workmanlike victory, and had a 10-0 second-quarter lead when Charles spat up another pill that led to a cheapie Blazer touchdown.

Last week against Tulane, same thing. Early on, Chuck upchucked the ball  inside the Rice 20, and it led to Tulane's first score, a 30-yard field goal without benefit of a single first down.

Then in the second half, Owl quarterback Taylor McHargue took his turn, as he was stripped of the ball straining for extra yardage.. That led to the Greenies' only touchdown of the day, and made the game closer than it should have been.

Lesson learned, one must assume, the Owls will crank up a close-to-the-vest, zone-read option, control the ball, pound the middle offensive approach to Saturday's championship bout.

Marshall, on the other hand, behind the tools and skill set of star junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, has been most effective when it opens up the offensive attack to full throttle.

The Thundering Herd has scored at least 45 points in each of its last six games, the last five of which have been wins. As we speak, the Herd is ranked sixth in the nation in per-game scoring at 44.6 points per game.

The Herd offense has averaged 513.3 yards per game total offense this season. Quarterback Cato has a right-at 60 per cent pass completion ratio and has racked up 3,314 yards through the air in the regular season -- and tallied 34 touchdown passes while giving up only eight pickoffs.

Tommy Shuler is Cato's favorite target, having hauled in 89 catches on the season for 1,019 yards and nine Tds. No less effective as a pass receiver is a chap who goes by the name of Gator Hoskins, who has scored a touchdown better than one out of every three times he touches the ball -- he sports 13 TD receptions on just 38 total grabs on the season..

The MU offensive attack is versatile, and shows no less productivity on the ground, however.

The Herd is/are averaging right at 220 yards per game rushing. Four backs have all scored at least six rushing Tds; the team has 32 rushing touchdowns in all.

Definitely the feature infantryman for the Herd on Saturday will be one Essray Taliaferro, a former walkon who eclipsed the 1,000-yard total on the season in Marshall's 59-28 beatdown of East Carolina last week. Ess -- or is it just "Ray" -- has run up 1,006 yards rushing this season and has nine rushing touchdowns.

And then there's Kevin Grooms, last year's consensus C-USA Freshman of the Year, who scored four touchdowns in the Herd's 54-51, double-overtime (and one must add: fluke) win over the Owls last season.

This particular studenathalete was suspended from the team indefinitely following his arrest last weekend in Huntington on misdemeanor domestic battery and obstruction charges. Local police nabbed the youngster in the early morning hours Saturday, shortly after the Thundering Herd clinched the C-USA East Division Championship with their pounding of ECU.

That one incident hasn’t been the speedster’s only brush with the law. In April, he was also arrested on misdemeanor charges of obstruction and underage consumption.

So one might assume that he will not make the trip to Houston with his teammates on Friday. Of course, one thusly might assume quite incorrectly and find him in the starting lineup come brunch time Saturday.

The Marshall defensive unit has tended to restrict its misdemeanors and obstructive activities to the football field, holding its opponents to a mere 21.7 points per game, good for 26th nationally. The Herd defense is yielding 206.4 yards per game passing, and that’s good for 22nd in the country.

DL Gary Thompson was named National Defensive Lineman of the Week and Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week after his two interception, one pick-six performance in the win over ECU.

The Herd had three picks against the Pirates, including one by Taj Letman, which adds up to 17 pickoffs on the year for the MU defenders.

All in all, the stout performance of the Marshall defense this year reflects the same kind of improvement as has the Rice contingent, both units having finished at the bottom of the league in total defense last year, but right up at the head of the class this season.

While the Owl defense has seen improvement by way of returning veterans, for the Herd defense, only Alex Bazzie, Jermaine Holmes, and Monterius Lovett started last year against Rice.

Through 12 games, there are several new faces among the Herd's top tacklers. LB Neville Hewitt (70), DB Corey Tindal (53), DB Darryl Roberts (52), DB Taj Letman (46), DB A.J. Leggett (42), LB Stefan Houston (37), DL James Rouse (35), DB Tiquan Lang (29) and DL Gary Thompson (25) were not on the fi eld for the program a season ago. Defensive backs Lang, Tindal and Thompson are all freshmen.

So with such stout defensive displays thus far, the frankly lousy weather projected for Saturday’s game suggests that a defensive struggle may be the result, notwitshtanding MU’s gaudy offensive stats on the season.

If so, the effect of turnovers will be magnified, as will field position, special teams performance, penalties – you know the litany.

Thus, if Rice may be seen to break that almost six-decade drought in league championships, the ever-evasive four-quarters game will be essential.

As David Bailiff has repeated on numerous occasions this season, to win, the Owls won’t have to be great. But they will have to be consistent, heads-up, quick to adapt, and – dare we use the expression – more intelligent than their opponent.

One more thing – throughout whatever sloppy conditions the weather throws at them, they’ll just have to hold on to that damn ball, and better than they have been.

So let’s tee it up.


Marshall Thundering Herd football links

star.gif (898 bytes)Dec. 7 -- Marshall (Rice Stadium -- 11:00 a.m.<ESPN2>)
Marshall Thundering Herd/Herdzone (official site)
Herd Nation Message Board(Rivals)
Herd Nation main page (Rivals)
Herd Haven main page (Scout)
Herd Haven message board (Scout)
HerdFans message board (Independent)
Huntington, WV, Herald-Dispatch/Marshall Sports
Charleston, WV, Gazette/Sports
Charleston, WV, Daily Mail/Sports
Marshall University Parthenon/Sports
Marshall University main website Sports
Thundering Herd Sports Network/Facebook

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