CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- SOMEWHERE, I forget where, I posed the question about Marshall's kicking game: Which would come first, the Thundering Herd's third touchback of the year or the Pittsburgh Pirates' 82nd victory?
Thanks to the lively leg of freshman Amareto Curraj, it was the former, knocking his third home Saturday night before the Bucs raised the Jolly Roger on win No. 79. For good measure, he booted three more, giving him six.
In a night full of good news for the Herd in its 52-14 pummeling of Miami (Ohio), this was as big as any: The touchback has arrived at Third Avenue and 20th Street.
It came a year late, a year after the NCAA's unnecessary move to make football a safer but duller sport. Now, kickoff strategy is simple: Tell your kicker to blast the ball 70 yards, then send your defense out to the 25-yard line.
Curraj, a Tampa, Fla., native, did it six times in eight tries. Last year's Herd kickers, Justin Haig and Trent Martin, did it six times in 83 tries. (A few of us have cited a figure of three, which was the conference-games mark. There was one touchback in the season's final seven games.)
"You're the third to tell me," Curraj told me after the game. "It's a great feeling. I didn't know that at all. Now that you told me, it's even better to know. I'm glad I can do what I came here to do."
Curraj didn't take the game's first kickoff, which came after Marshall won the toss and deferred (c'mon, man!). Coach Doc Holliday sent out Haig shortly after 7 p.m., then he used Curraj the rest of the night.
"I was afraid if he took the first one, he would kick it in the [sideline] stands," Holliday said. "You know what? I probably out-thought ... I probably would have been fine. He'd probably kick it out of the end zone. These good kickers, they don't worry about a whole lot and I think he's one of those guys."
So many observations, so little time. Here goes:
The ripple effect was unbelievable. First, it allowed Marshall to dominate in scrimmage plays, 94-57. The Herd's deeper defense was fresh and Miami's defense turned to mush.
The latter was apparent five minutes into the second half, when the RedHawks called a timeout. With Marshall on their 19-yard line and the score 21-14, an adjustment was in order, but I think that timeout was more about fatigue.
The RedHawks had just defended the Herd's 16th play in those five minutes, sandwiched around a three-and-out, and they had to be bushed. That timeout didn't do much, as the Herd ran 11 of the next 14 snaps and took a 35-14 lead.
The Herd forced 28 three-and-outs last year, 23 against FBS foes. There were none against West Virginia and Rice; one each against Central Florida, Alabama-Birmingham and East Carolina. Those five teams ran up 277 points, and four won.
"It made us stronger in the fourth quarter, the third quarter," said center Chris Jasperse. "We just worked as hard as we could, and tried to move them, dominate in the end, that's what we tried to do."
Cato's progress in the weight room has given him more speed and more confidence when he decides to take off. He gained 59 net yards on nine carries, five of which gained first downs.
That can and should discourage defenses from dropping eight defenders.
By the way, previous MU strength coach Joe Miday is doing pretty well in his new gig. I'm guessing he had something to do with this score: Western Kentucky 35, Kentucky 26.