CHARLESTON -- THE TASK facing Marshall's offensive line was unmistakable Saturday. As if Purdue's front four needed to look any more menacing, the Boilermakers dressed in all-black uniforms.
It wasn't a special occasion, but those togs had my full attention. On a splendidly sunny Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, 315-pound Kawann Short qualified as a human solar eclipse. Shoot, I couldn't look directly at him.
As expected, Purdue posed the toughest test for the Thundering Herd's improved offensive line so far. The verdict? Marshall lost the game 51-41, but the Herd O-line passed its test.
Those 41 points provide much of the proof. None of those came in mop-up time, and the Herd even had a shot to get within one score with 3:46 left. When Tommy Shuler's attempt at an option pass on the two-point conversion flamed out and the onside kick did no better, Purdue was finally safe.
The stats bode well, too, for the rest of the Conference USA schedule. Marshall favored the pass, as expected, but did average 4.1 yards on 23 rushes. Sacks count against those figures, but Rakeem Cato was brought down just twice for 12 yards in losses.
Cato stayed upright the rest of the time, completing 45 of 68 for a career-high 439 yards. The quick passing and tempo kept the Boilermakers off balance, but there had to be some good blocking along the way.
But not always, as Short and fellow tackle Bruce Gaston occasionally showed the Herd who was boss. Short's three tackles all resulted in a loss, with the third one separating Cato from the ball and nearly causing a late defensive touchdown. Gaston also had three tackles, two going for loss.
Give the Boilermakers credit for picking off passes on three straight possessions and taking two for touchdowns; that sequence turned the game. But that defensive hardly dominated.
Short and Gaston combined for five tackles for loss, but Purdue had just two others. The Herd's 534 total yards is a figure no defensive coordinator could love. (OK, maybe Joe DeForest at West Virginia would like that. Looking at the WVU-Baylor game, 534 yards would be a "Steel Curtain" figure.)
"We started cutting them early," said Herd tight end Gator Hoskins. "That made them slow down a little bit, so then we came off the ball and got a chance to move them around a lot."
All this despite another early injury exit for Garrett Scott. The Herd needs to get him back to consistent good health, but the line has functioned well with Gage Niemeyer filling in at right tackle.
A reasonably healthy line will bode well for the rest of the season. Behind that line, the Herd has scored 41 points in regulation in each of the last two games, and has piled up at least 491 total yards in every game.
Those levels are likely the minimum needed to run with Tulsa, which comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
As Gazette readers know, we compile a "How They Scored" box as part of our game coverage of Marshall and West Virginia games, neatly summarizing every scoring drive.
Every last stinkin' one of them. And if you picked up the print edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail, you saw a section full of scoring drives - 33 in all, 32 touchdowns and one field goal.
We're not going to send our crack research team on it, but that has to be a single-day record.
The two games combined for 225 points, 2,484 total yards, 1,970 yards passing and 123 first downs, wrapped into 361 plays from scrimmage.
OK, so the Baylor-WVU game did much of the heavy lifting, but dang! That's a lot of offense.
When I'm not grumbling about the emasculation of the college football kickoff, I'm mumbling about stupid penalties. Arguably, they're all stupid, but some are more aggravating than others.