MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Marshall’s defense entered its Friday night game at Middle Tennessee by giving up a stingy 15.0 points per game. It left Floyd Stadium giving up an even stingier 14.3.
To add to that, 14 is how many points the Thundering Herd scored off turnovers in its 38-10 win over the Blue Raiders. And those points were scored in a 1:34 span early in the second quarter, a stretch that proved to be the backbreaker.
The stage was set on the Blue Raiders’ first possession, as the home team drove to the Marshall 23-yard line. On third-and-2, Channing Hames sacked MTSU’s John Urzua for an 11-yard loss.
That was the first of six sacks, and that doesn’t include other plays in which Urzua was inconvenienced — such as the “pick-six” touchdown scored by linebacker Artis Johnson.
Ty Tyler got around a blocker and draped himself over Urzua as he tried to throw. Where the pass was supposed to go we may never know for sure, as it was altered into a harmless toss forward. Johnson found the gift and took it to the proverbial Christmas tree.
“It developed very slowly,” Johnson said. “I sit there, have my eyes on the quarterback and the D-line was crushing down on the quarterback, he was in the pocket. As he got ready to throw the ball, the D-lineman hit him and the ball comes right at me. It was a great feeling.”
On the Blue Raiders’ next possession — next play, even — Omari Cobb knocked the ball away from receiver C.J. Windham, and Chase Hancock recovered and returned it 18 yards to the MTSU 18. Three players later, the Herd led 21-3 and wasn’t threatened thereafter.
Marshall held the slippery Brad Anderson to 51 rushing yards, and limited the Blue Raiders to 53 rushing yards total, a season-best for the Herd.
Of those six sacks, 5.5 were credited to the offensive line — Hames two, Marquis Couch, Blake Keller and Ty Tyler one each and Bee a sack split with linebacker Jaquan Yulee.
“As a whole defensive line, we just got after it,” Hames said. “We saw they were weak up front, so we decided to dominate up front, and that’s where it starts.”
In the Conference USA statistics, Marshall maintained its top spot in scoring defense, and climbed to No. 2 in rushing defense (109.9, just behind Southern Mississippi’s 108.5) and is third in total defense (314.9, behind Southern Miss’ 313.3 and Texas-San Antonio’s 304.0).
In conference games only, the Herd’s three-game numbers are almost silly: 5.3 points against, 71.3 rushing defense and 227.3 total defense. The Herd still has three of the league’s top five scoring teams left on the schedule, but the defense welcomes all comers.
“I think people across the board understand our whole defense is the truth, you know what I’m saying?” Hames said. “We’re just going to keep coming, continue the whole season. We’re not going to stop.”
With the sixth victory safely tucked away, we can at least list Conference USA’s dedicated bowl games. And fans can sit back and enjoy the professional bowl projectors whiff on the Herd’s destination and opponent.
The venues: Boca Raton (vs. American Athletic Conference), St. Petersburg (vs. American), New Mexico (vs. Mountain West), Bahamas (vs. Mid-American), New Orleans (vs. Sun Belt) and Fort Worth (vs. Army, if eligible). The league has a secondary agreement with the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, in case the Atlantic Coast or Southeastern conferences come up short on eligible teams.
As in earlier years, there is no game specifically earmarked for the champion, as in other leagues. One rule to keep in mind: All teams with seven or more wins will be placed into the league’s bowls before 6-6 teams.
The St. Pete game, which has welcomed Marshall twice, has the coolest formal name of the entire postseason: the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
* The announced attendance was 13,412, which may be triple the actual turnout.
* The strange thing about quarterback Jackson White operating the Herd’s last series: The Herd had to call a timeout with 1:07 left, and then reinsert Chase Litton to run the “victory” formation.
It’s possible that White has never practiced that play, and keep in mind that Marshall uses the shotgun snap in all other scenarios. White, the holder on field goals and extra points, is the third QB on the travel squad, and MU won’t use true freshman Isaiah Green in mop-up duty.
* MTSU’s turnover margin worsened to minus-11, while Marshall’s improved to plus-3.
* MTSU wasn’t helped by losing offensive lineman Conner Trent at the end of the first half and record-setting receiver Richie James early in the third quarter.
* Marshall scored the road team’s first victory in the short all-time series, which the Herd leads 5-2.
* And finally, the word from 12th-year MTSU coach Rick Stockstill: “Give Marshall credit, they did a great job and whooped us pretty good.”