HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Say Marshall's opponent was weak Saturday night if you wish, but this much is true: The Thundering Herd made sure Gardner-Webb looked weak.
The Herd flew out of the gate at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, sending a fair portion of the 26,317 out for bonus tailgating by halftime. Six takeaways and 509 total yards later, the Herd rang up a 55-0 thumping of the Runnin' Bulldogs of the Big South.
"We talked all week about starting fast, and coming out and playing well early," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "I thought our kids did that; I thought the kickoff return kind of set the tone for the game."
Yes, the Herd's first and only kickoff return covered 45 yards by Steward Butler. He got knocked out of bounds by the kicker, but that set the tone for one of his most dominating performances.
Butler opened the scoring on a 9-yard run, and followed that up with a 46-yard TD gallop, taking advantage of a Gage Niemeyer block downfield. His third-quarter score from the 13 capped a night in which he ran for 151 yards on just nine carries.
"Last time I scored three touchdowns was in high school," Butler said. "It felt great to do that tonight."
Add in his 18-yard reception and that 45-yard return and Stewart's all-purpose yardage (214) was higher than the Runnin' Bulldogs' total yardage (184).
The rest of the MU offense wasn't cheated, either. Rakeem Cato went 16 of 28 for 230 yards, running for an 8-yard touchdown and throwing a 44-yard TD shot to Tommy Shuler. Cato yielded to Blake Frohnapfel with 5:39 left in the third quarter, and he connected with brother Eric Frohnapfel for a 1-yard TD to end the scoring.
The Herd defense made sure that scoring ended, too. Gardner-Webb didn't penetrate the Marshall 45-yard line until the fourth quarter, when Marshall's second- and third-stringers recorded the team's sixth sack to squash that threat.
It was the Herd's first shutout in 10 years, dating back to the 2003 finale, a 28-0 win over Ohio. A deeper trivia nugget: That was the afternoon Marshall Stadium was renamed in Joan C. Edwards' honor.
The regulars on the defense didn't know that at the time; they just knew they wanted the shutout badly. They were going to give the reserves a hard time if the Bulldogs scored.
"Oh, yeah, I'm not going to lie to you," Dillon said. "I was on the sideline like, 'You better not let them score!'"
Gardner-Webb committed four first-half turnovers that led to 24 MU points. The last seven of those came immediately, as G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty was pressured into throwing an off-target pass right to Monterius Lovett, who maneuvered 70 yards to make it 31-0.
Justin Haig's second of two field goals gave the Herd a 34-0 halftime lead.
Shuler led the 11 MU pass-catchers with five receptions for 85 yards. A whopping 34 players landed on the defensive stat sheet, with freshman tackle Josh Brown and redshirt freshman end Gary Thompson leading with six tackles apiece.
They all had Gardner-Webb's collective head spinning.
"We certainly did not represent Gardner-Webb the way we intended to," said G-W coach Carroll McCray. "We made a lot of mental mistakes and turned the football over. We did a lot of things that didn't even allow us to see if we could compete with Marshall."