Marshall notebook: Herd unable to stop Tulsa ground game
HUNTINGTON - Perhaps Marshall's rush defense might become a little less beleaguered without Tulsa to kick it around.
And kick the Golden Hurricane did in two games - a 59-17 pounding in 2011 in Tulsa and a 45-38 win Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Let's put it this way: Tulsa ran 53 times for 250 yards Saturday and that was an improvement for the Herd.
In the 2011 debacle, the Hurricane romped for 380 yards on one fewer carry.
So the two-year total is 630 yards in 105 attempts, with Trey Watts topping the 100-yard mark both times (144 and 111). Ja'Terian Douglas did not duplicate his 194-yard effort of a year ago, but Alex Singleton repeated his three touchdowns - this time, with a career-best 48-yarder.
Tulsa ran it 53 times out of 70 plays because . . . well, because it could. Marshall had given up 245 yards per game to FBS opponents, so that wasn't rocket science there.
But there were other reasons the Hurricane preferred to travel by land.
"I saw Marshall's offense, for one," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "They're a team that had been snapping the ball 92 plays a game. We felt like we needed help our defense out, if we could run the ball. We are a fairly good running team, so we were going to see if we could make that make a difference today.
"Kind of old-school, wasn't it?"
The other reason? Cody Green does not invite comparisons of Paul Smith or G.J. Kinne, previous Tulsa quarterbacks.
"They were going to take it out of the quarterback's hands, and they rushed it 53 times," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "Number one, they're pretty good up front and they've got a back that's about 260 [Singleton]; that's a big load. At times we played pretty well but at other times we didn't tackle, get him on the ground."
This is not surprising, either: Marshall looked a lot better to Blankenship this time around. Last year, the Hurricane took command almost from the coin toss.
"There's no question this is a team on the rise, they're doing the right things, they're taking the right approach," Blankenship said. "What they're doing offensively is really hard to deal with. I still believe we're a pretty good defense [but] we had our hands full the whole day.
"They were a young team a year ago, it seemed like to me. I think those two safeties [Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha] are good players that came in on defense. Their skill players on offense are as good as anybody we'll see."
Blankenship liked Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, too. Cato came in during last year's game when A.J. Graham went down with an injury, and has been MU's starter ever since.
"His poise is really what amazes me," Blankenship said. "He got in a lot of the game against us a year ago and seemed to be very green, very raw, some jitters. We didn't see any of that on film, and I didn't see that today. I think he's a talented young quarterback that's operating in the system very well."
Marshall's "baby back" backfield could be pared by one with the injury to Remi Watson.
The redshirt freshman went down after his best run, a career-long 26-yarder in the second quarter. As he was helped off the field, he put no weight on his right ankle.
Watson's injury could put the running game in the hands of true freshmen Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler, who combined for 124 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, a 6-yarder by Grooms.
An even more worrisome injury came to punter Tyler Williams, whose leg was "turnstiled" by an onrushing Dexter McCoil late in the third quarter. To the dismay of the home crowd, McCoil received a 5-yard penalty for merely running into the kicker.
As Williams hobbled off, Justin Haig entered. A much more natural place-kicker, Haig got off a 41-yard punt with a zero-yard return. The Herd did not punt the rest of the day.
John Bruhin started at his usual right guard spot for the Herd, but Alex Schooler came in late in the first half and went the rest of the way.
Perhaps Tulsa showed the way in defending against Marshall's passing game by taking Tommy Shuler out of the game. A week after catching 19 passes for 200 yards against Purdue, Shuler was limited to 28 yards on seven catches.
His long play was 7 yards, and he lost 3 on another play when he had to hit the ground to catch a swing pass. On the other hand, Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson combined for 17 receptions and 251 yards, with two TDs for Wilson.
"They took Shuler away, but Dobson had a bunch of catches," Holliday said. "You can't take everybody away, and we were able to run the ball, too. I thought we did a pretty good job of mixing it up."
The final result, though: Wilson was flagged for offensive pass interference on an end-zone throw, and both Dobson and Wilson were denied on throws for the tying touchdown.
Dobson and Wilson gave the Herd two 100-yard receivers for the first time since 2009 (Chuck Walker 119, Cody Slate 114 vs. Southern Illinois). ... When Marshall committed two first-quarter turnovers, that gave the Herd six in a span of 41 minutes, 12 seconds - less than three quarters worth - going back to the second quarter of the Purdue game. The Herd gave up just three points off those turnovers, though. ... Marshall's record in homecoming games fell to 58-45-8, as its two-game winning streak was snapped. ... Tulsa remains one of two C-USA teams the Herd has not beaten, and the only one it has never defeated all-time. Central Florida has a seven-game streak against the Herd, following three MU wins when both inhabited the Mid-American Conference.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.