HUNTINGTON - From time to time, I've told people Marshall football will be formidable again when the team plays almost as well on the road as it does at home.
The Thundering Herd's 54-17 loss Saturday night to Central Florida shot a giant hole in that theory, now didn't it? All of a sudden, this MU team plays better on the road than it does in the friendly confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Much better, it seems.
Marshall had to kick, scratch and claw its way past Rice in double overtime on a hot, stuffy Houston day in an empty stadium. The Owls are 3-6, but have showed they are much better with quarterback Taylor McHargue healthy. Looking at their remaining schedule (Tulane, Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso), they can salvage 6-6.
The Herd pick-sixed its way to a 28-point deficit at Purdue, but had a peep at cutting that margin to eight. The second half of that 51-41 setback was a no-asterisk great effort.
At Southern Mississippi, Marshall squeezed the life out of the home team. The Golden Eagles were 0-6 coming in, yes, but were coming off a double-overtime loss to UCF and had several players back from their 2011 Conference USA championship season.
But Marshall scored 59 points, the most on the road since 1927, and hazed Southern Miss quarterback Anthony Alford until his benching. In the stands, Alford's mother got in an altercation with disgusted fans and was arrested, an incident that has drawn 32,000 looks on YouTube (search for "usm crazy momma").
"Disorderly" sums up the state of the USM program now. In a 44-17 loss to Rice, a long snap bounced off the three-man shield in front of punter Peter Boehme.
'Nuff said. Marshall's program is in better shape than that, and in better shape than it was in 2007 when it started 0-7.
But that doesn't make Saturday's debacle, the third home loss in a row, any easier to swallow. The 22,563 poncho-draped fans deserved better.
They didn't deserve to see:
I'll say it again: Under the new kickoff rules, no major-college team should ever give up a KO-return touchdown. It shouldn't have to squib or pooch-kick to avoid one, either. I joke that a team, upon giving up such a TD, should forfeit on the spot.
So should the Herd forfeit the next game, too?
"We had no issues last week [at Southern Miss]," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "We were excellent because our guys ran down and made plays. We didn't change the kickoff this week - we lined them up in the same place, we kicked the ball in the same place, we had guys right there.
"He's a good returner but still, you've got to make the play when you're there."
On a third-and-10, Blake Bortles hit Jeff Godfrey down the right sideline for 33 yards. On a third-and-10, Bortles pulled the ball down and escaped onrushing linebacker Deon Meadows for 12 yards.