"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, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.