Marshall notebook: Herd defense rediscovers 3-and-out
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Criticize Marshall's defense all you want, but it did rediscover the three-and-out Saturday afternoon. But the Thundering Herd came painfully close to racking up one that would have made its 51-41 loss to Purdue really suspenseful.
The Herd went the entire Rice game without forcing a three-and-out. Reaching back to the fourth quarter of the Ohio game and the 89-yard drive that gave Purdue an early 7-0 lead, Herd foes picked up a first down in 16 straight possessions (end-of-half kneels not included).
Finally, late in the first quarter with the Herd down 14-7, the Boilermakers were denied a first down. It was penalty-aided but, hey, everything counts.
Caleb TerBush hit Cosby Wright for a 21-yard pass on third-and-17, but 15 yards was assessed for a downfield personal foul. On the replayed third down, Steve Dillon forced an intentional grounding, causing Purdue to punt from its 5-yard line.
The Herd forced two more three-and-outs in the second half, but had a golden opportunity to get another. Failure to do that, and to get off the field on several other third downs, allowed Purdue to score its nine second-half points on drives of a combined 11 minutes, 55 seconds.
After Marshall scored on a blocked punt to cut lead to 42-28, the Herd had Purdue facing a third-and-10 on its 22. But TerBush hit Gary Bush for a 14-yard gain on an inside screen the Herd struggled to defend all day. The Boilermakers settled for a field goal but used up 16 snaps and more than 51/2 minutes.
The Herd answered with a touchdown to make the score 45-35, but the defense gave up a third-and-7, a third-and-6 and a third-and-3 at its 7-yard line. On the latter play, TerBush evaded a few rushers and found Bush at the goal line, making it 51-35 with 6:38 left. The extra point was blocked, but Marshall could not get the two needed scores.
All told, the Boilermakers converted 10 of 18 third-down opportunities. The Herd has struggled all season, allowing 39 first downs in 77 chances, a tick over 50 percent.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday has been known to sneak out on the field a bit too far during the action, and on Saturday it cost him a 5-yard penalty - and a gash that might have required at least five stitches.
Holliday got in the way of an official after the Thundering Herd's Jermain Kelson blocked a punt and Derek Mitchell returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. The collision left a gash on Holliday's right cheek that bled profusely. Television cameras captured the bleeding, which lasted well after the play.
The Herd received a 5-yard penalty for delay of game, with a sideline warning attached. The foul did not negate the touchdown, and was assessed on the point-after try.
As Holliday addressed the media after the game, his cheek looked a bit worse than on television. He didn't want to discuss the injury much.
"I got ran over by a big official," he said. "He was bigger than I was, I know that."
Cornerback Travon Van did not make the trip, though he was listed Thursday morning on the travel roster. Holliday didn't want to get into that too much, either.
"He's hurt. He's got a deal where he just couldn't play," Holliday said. "I don't want to get into what it was."
Right tackle Garrett Scott started for the first time since the season opener, but was injured in the first half and did not return. Wide receiver Antavious Wilson, who had a first-half touchdown catch, missed most of the second half.
When Andre Snipes-Booker returned a kickoff 24 yards and a 5-yard Purdue penalty allowed Marshall to start from its 33-yard line, it was a rare victory for the Herd's kickoff return team.
Through the four games, a touchback - with the ball placed on the 25 under the new rules - has been a positive result.
There have been 10 touchbacks against the Herd in four games. On those kicks getting run back, Marshall reached the 25 just six times out of 12 attempts.
Throwing to Gator Hoskins in the red zone has been so effective, it's getting weird. After his three touchdown catches Saturday, he has six on the season in just 14 receptions. For his career, he has scored nine touchdowns in 28 catches.
The three-touchdown receiving performance is the Herd's first since Josh Davis did it Oct. 11, 2003 against Kent State.
Hoskins can't hide on the game film, but opposing defenses can't seem to find him. He has a knack for hiding out among defenders in tight spaces.
"Hey man, I guess I'm lucky," Hoskins said. "Sometimes they just forget about the tight end in the red zone."
Want more agony? The last time Marshall allowed two "pick-sixes" came in 2010, in a 44-28 loss at Bowling Green.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.