Herd has an answer for Terps
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - When Maryland marched 991/2 yards for a go-ahead touchdown Friday in the Military Bowl, Marshall could have unraveled and suffered a heartbreaking loss.
Or the Thundering Herd could have fought back against its soon-to-be Big Ten opponent.
As it happened, this team chose "none of the above," really. Instead, it swiftly answered that long touchdown drive with one of its own, zapping the Terrapins' momentum and eventually leaving Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a 31-20 victory.
The result, before a red-dominated crowd announced at 30,163, capped a 10-win season for Marshall, its first since 2002. Its bowl record improved to 8-3 with victories in the last three.
Marshall took the lead for good at 24-20 with a 7-yard Essray Taliaferro run, capping a 63-yard drive. After two defensive stops, the Herd delivered the kill shot on the last two catches of Gator Hoskins' splendid senior year - a 28-yard catch and defender-drag on third-and-11, and his second 8-yard touchdown catch.
When A.J. Leggett forced the game's only turnover, intercepting a C.J. Brown pass, the locals tried to beat the traffic and the few thousand MU fans launched a loud celebration.
It was a great result for a resilient team that played its worst game three weeks ago in the Conference USA championship at Rice.
"Well, these kids never flinched," said coach Doc Holliday. "The one thing I liked about this group is that it didn't matter that they went down the field. They were not concerned about the scoreboard, they were not concerned about anything else except playing extremely hard.
"Being able to respond back from that drive was huge, and get the turnover at the end of the game was good."
Marshall responded to everything, starting with Rakeem Cato's work against the Terrapins' pressure. He completed 28 of 44 passes for 337 yards with three touchdowns, the two to Hoskins and one to Tommy Shuler. Accordingly, Cato was named the game's MVP.
Hoskins caught six passes for 104 yards, solving a third-and-11 with his 28-yard gain. Maryland defenders knew they had to identify him, but couldn't always stop him. Or Cato. Or Shuler, who had nine receptions. And so on.
"The issue that you have when you defend Marshall is they have more than just one weapon," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said, referring to defending Hoskins. "They've got a 1,000-yard rusher [Taliaferro], they had a 97-pass catcher [Shuler], they had a tight end who had 44 catches coming into the game [Hoskins], the quarterback is very good.
"There are matchups you like and some you don't, and we probably could have played a little bit better technically versus him. But we had some deficiencies from the injury standpoint that kept us from playing some of the packages that we'd like to. But he's very good."
So is Cato, and the Terrapins couldn't do much with him either, failing to sack him after doing so on the very first play from scrimmage. And they couldn't get him again despite the Herd offensive line losing right tackle Clint Van Horn in the first possession, and with left tackle Garrett Scott briefly out with an injury.
"He was very shifty," Maryland defensive tackle Andre Monroe said of Cato. "That was one of his biggest assets. There were quite a few times we would get him back [in the pocket] and he was able to wiggle or get the ball away just in time and do what they needed to do to get down the field."
Taliaferro and the unlikely Remi Watson ran well enough, combining for 123 yards on 25 carries. Marshall gained 475 yards total. The big plays were numerous - Marshall gained 10 yards or more on 21 plays.
The Herd's defense wasn't dominating, but held the Terrapins to 2 of 14 on third downs and limited them twice to short field goals in the second quarter. Both coaches said that, as much as anything, figured into the final result.
And finally, the MU special teams were pretty special.
Deandre Reaves returned the kickoff 31 yards after Maryland's long drive, handing his team good field position to start. Good field position was the Herd's theme, particularly with punter Tyler Williams sticking the Terps inside the 10-yard line.
"We had trouble changing the field position, especially in the first half," Edsall said. "Then in the second half, we go 99 yards to go ahead. But the further you have to drive the ball, your percentages go down in terms of scoring. That was something we could never got on top of."
Marshall (10-4) was able to use that field position to take a 7-0 lead, driving just 37 yards for Shuler's 1-yard TD catch. Levern Jacobs, who caught seven passes for 100 yards, tied it for Maryland with a 29-yard pass from Brown.
The Herd came right back to take a 14-7 lead with the first Cato-to-Hoskins touchdown, a typical play-action to the back of the end zone.
The Terrapins (7-6) drove to the Marshall 4 to start the second quarter, but Darryl Roberts disrupted Brown's option keeper for a 3-yard loss to help force a 25-yard Brad Craddock field goal. Marshall had a drive similarly bog down at the Maryland 10, and Justin Haig's 27-yard field goal gave Marshall a 17-10 lead.
As the first-half clock ticked down, Maryland combined three double-digit runs with a 34-yard Brown-to-Jacobs pass to get to the MU 10. But Alex Bazzie killed that drive, burying Brown for a 4-yard loss on an option keeper. Craddock hit from 33 yards to cut Marshall's lead to 17-13, where it was at the half.
The third quarter was scoreless, but that's a technicality. The Terrapins, stuck a half-yard short of their own goal line after a masterpiece of punt-downing, took the last 7:40 of the period to drive to the Marshall 2. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Brown hit tight end Dave Stinebaugh for the final 2 yards and a 20-17 lead.
And Marshall answered decisively, leaving no doubt.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.