Herd adds to Southern Miss misery
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Southern Mississippi has fallen on hard times, and Marshall made certain that situation remained Saturday afternoon.
Maybe a little worse.
Before 20,398 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the Thundering Herd rained nine touchdowns on the hapless Golden Eagles, winning 61-13. Those 61 points were the most Marshall has scored in a Conference USA game, and the most in any conference game since the 66-21 bombing of Buffalo on Oct. 12, 2002.
Almost like Byron Leftwich did 11 years ago, Rakeem Cato took just 1 minute, 19 seconds to throw the first touchdown, a 26-yarder to Gator Hoskins. His consecutive-games streak with a passing TD was extended to a school-record-tying 26 games, but Cato was hardly done.
As the Herd defense, laid bare in a 51-49 loss to Middle Tennessee nine days earlier, throttled the Golden Eagles, Cato fired three more TD passes in the first quarter, 15 yards to Craig Wilkins, 23 to Davonte Allen and 1 to Tommy Shuler.
He followed with a 9-yard TD pass to Shuler just before halftime, giving Marshall a 35-10 lead. When Cato put his helmet away before the end of the third quarter, he was 21 of 28 for 262 yards and those five touchdowns, with no interceptions - a filthy 212.53 NCAA passer rating.
Coach Doc Holliday had worried about this game with Southern Miss, which left Huntington with a 20-game losing streak. Those worries proved to be unnecessary.
"I felt going into this game it was important we got out to a fast start," said the fourth-year coach. "I thought we did that. I also felt it was important for us to come out fast in the second half and I felt like we did that, as well."
Yes, the Herd did.
Having deferred the option to the second half, the Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) drove 76 yards on eight plays, finishing with an 18-yard run by Essray Taliaferro. He finished with 108 yards on just eight carries, with Kevin Grooms topping that by a yard, also on eight carries. Grooms had a 75-yard later in the third quarter.
Even Steward Butler got into the act, stepping out of Holliday's doghouse for a 59-yard run with 8:46 left to finish the scoring.
And get this: The game could have been uglier. First, Devon "Moo Moo" Smith had a probable 74-yard TD reception cut to 58 yards by a non-contact injury, probably a cramp. (After some work on a stationary bike, he returned.)
And Taliaferro missed a chance at a long TD run, getting the ball popped out from behind by Southern Miss' Emmanuel Johnson. Taliaferro helplessly watched the ball roll out of the end zone for a touchback.
It was a rare highlight for Southern Miss (0-8, 0-4), which allowed the Herd to run up 636 total yards, 304 on the ground.
"It's obvious we didn't do many things right, today," said USM coach Todd Monken, another former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator having a tough season. "You can sugarcoat it all you want, but we didn't tackle very well and we didn't defend them fluently enough."
And the Eagles weren't exactly fluent on offense, and the first possession set the tone. On third down, MU safety Tiquan Lang knocked the ball loose from USM receiver Tyre'oune Holmes, and tackle Brandon Sparrow recovered.
True freshman Nick Mullens threw for 323 yards in his second career start, but he paid for it. He fired an 81-yard shot to Markese Triplett in the second quarter but went 24 of 48, threw an interception and was sacked four times.
That last stat should come with an "only" qualifier, as a surly Herd defense made amends for a sackless 51-49 loss last week at Middle Tennessee. Mullens was hit often, and his throws traveled in funky directions at times.
"I had him one time, it might have been a smidgeon late," Sparrow said. "But he was getting some groans out, complaining to the ref about it."
The Eagles possessed the ball for 37:24, due in part to the Herd scoring quickly - five of the touchdown drives lasted less than a minute. A defense usually tires when defending that long, but this simply gave the Herd a chance for more big defensive plays.
Most notable was a goal-line stand in the second quarter. On third-and-goal from the MU 3-yard line, Gary Thompson crushed Mullens and forced an incompletion, and Mullens threw way wide on a sideline under pressure on fourth down.
It was that kind of afternoon. Now, the Herd is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible, playing at noon next Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham, also at Edwards Stadium.
"For the most part, I thought we played pretty clean," Holliday said. "And now we need to put that one behind us and get ready to go play next week."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.