Inside Marshall Sports

Herd-MTSU notebook

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.

*********

Other notes:

* 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.”

Grades for MTSU game

OFFENSE: B

Ran for 198 yards despite suffering 7 tackles for loss. No sacks. No turnovers, 6 of 13 on 3rd downs. Blue-collar day on that side of the ball. Had to settle for one FG, otherwise scored 4 TDs in the red zone.

DEFENSE: A

Is there any doubt? 14 points off turnovers in 1:34, 6 sacks, 53 yards rushing, 5 of 15 on 3rd down. It’s a shame Brent Stockstill was hurt; I would have loved to see strength vs. strength.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Kaare Vedvik’s punt average went under 50 because he had to execute a coffin-corner punt on a short field. Otherwise, he was dynamite. Good kick coverage, no errors.

QUARTERBACKING: B

I should bust Chase’s chops over bailing out on a block (that was funny), and he let a play clock run out on fourth-and-inches. But he had a solid if unspectacular game. His 2 long balls on the first possession (one drew holding penalty, other went for 37) kept the Blue Raiders honest the rest of the way.

COACHING: B

I could nitpick a few third-down calls on offense, but why? Chuck Heater seemed to realized his defense would have the advantage in the trenches and didn’t overthink the game plan. He continues to push all the right buttons.

OVERALL: A

Was it really that easy?

 

Herd-MTSU game prediction

Yes, Marshall has had nightmares in Murfreesboro. The Thundering Herd fell victim to a “last team with the ball wins” game in 2013 and lost in triple overtime in 2015 by missing *five* field goals.

Both games were played as night in chilly weather before puny crowds. There won’t be as much of a chill Friday night, but we will see lots of silver on this supposed “Blackout” night.

(MTSU’s athletic director once campaigned for membership in the American Athletic Conference, claiming it can carry the Nashville market. First, let’s see how much pull these guys have in Murfreesboro on a Friday night.)

Herd defenders will have trouble with MTSU’s receivers, which include diminutive running back Brad Anderson. Patience and open-field tackling will be critical here — when the Raiders drive downfield, you have to make them earn it in 10, 12, 14 plays.
Do that, and QB John Urzua eventually will goof up. MU pass rushers eventually will get to him, making an interception more likely as the game wears on. Cash in on those turnovers and it looks good for the Herd.

But not necessarily *that* good. Don’t bank on the relatively comfortable finishes the Herd enjoyed against Charlotte and Old Dominion. The Raiders have more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to cause another nighttime nightmare.
But here, we’ll flip the 2015 score …

MARSHALL 27, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 24 (with or without overtimes)

Conference USA notebook, 10/16

We haven’t gotten to November yet, but we have some “remember October” games on the docket this week. Looking at the games, in order of (my) interest:

NORTH TEXAS (4-2, 3-0) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (3-3, 2-0), 5:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN3

If you saw my Tuesday throwdown, I anointed NT quarterback Mason Fine the midseason MVP. He reached another level Saturday against Texas-San Antonio, driving his team 98 yards in less than a minute for a winning touchdown.

The Mean Green invades Boca Raton, where Lane Kiffin has thrown the right switch after a strange start. That switch? Start Jason Driskel, line up and run it down the other team’s throat. The Owls have run for 711 yards in their last 2 games, with Devon “Motor” Singletary gaining 327.

North Texas, which has also beaten Southern Mississippi, may be the superior team, but I’m going to make a selfish pick. They hype guy in me wants 4-0 Marshall vs. 4-0 FAU on Nov. 3.

LINE: FAU by 3. FAU

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (4-2, 3-0) at LOUISIANA TECH (3-3, 1-1), 7 p.m.
TV: Stadium

I didn’t think either team would have a league loss at this point, never mind both teams. They do, and that makes the stakes much bigger.

For Southern Miss, Ito Smith has 733 rushing yards, adding to his 1,459 from last year and 1,128 the year before. He’s a horse.
La Tech QB J’Mar Smith threw two interceptions at UAB, but he otherwise did his job. It wasn’t his fault the Bulldogs missed a tying extra point and had a winning field goal blocked on the final play.

Look for a good atmosphere in Ruston, but I have a hunch Smith and the Southern Miss rushing attack will prevail.

LINE: La Tech by 1.5. SOUTHERN MISS

WESTERN KENTUCKY (4-2, 2-1) at OLD DOMINION (2-4, 0-2), 6 p.m. Friday
TV: CBS Sports Network

I’m still not convinced that these Hilltoppers haven’t switched to a defense-led outfit, but the offense unclogged itself against Charlotte. The first-half count: 399 total yards, 38 points.

LINE: WKU by 9.5. WKU, A LOCK

RICE (1-5, 1-1) at TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (3-2, 0-2), 7 p.m.
TV: Stadium via Facebook

UTSA’s defense has the biggest gap between overall stats and stats in conference play, but Southern Miss and North Texas can do that. I can see a rebound against Rice and Texas-El Paso.

LINE: UTSA by 21.5. RICE BEATS SPREAD, SOMEHOW

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (4-2, 2-1) at CHARLOTTE (0-7, 0-3), 6:30 p.m.
TV: beIN Sports

Is formerly dormant UAB the Team of Destiny, even with a loss to North Texas? Having the minus-49ers on your schedule doesn’t hurt.

LINE: UAB by 7. UAB

Standings

East: FAU 2-0, Marshall 2-0, FIU, WKU 2-1, MTSU 1-2, Old Dominion 0-2, Charlotte 0-3.
West: North Texas 3-0, Southern Miss, UAB 2-1, La Tech, Rice 1-1, UTSA 0-2, UTEP 0-3.

Stat leaders

Rushing yards: Jeffery Wilson, NT, 749; Ito Smith, Southern Miss, 733, Devin Singletary 666. (Marshall: Keion Davis 9th, 393.)
Passing yards: Mason Fine, NT, 1,796; Mike White, WKU, 1,653; J’Mar Smith 1,539, Chase Litton, Marshall, 1,382.
Pass efficiency: Dalton Sturm, UTSA (91-134-1, 1,241 yds, 11 TDs, rating 171.3); Mason Fine, NT (122-197-5, 1,796 yds, 14 TDs, rating 156.9), Chase Litton, Marshall (121-201-3, 1,382 yds, 13 TDs, rating 136.3).
Receptions: Ty Lee, MTSU, 39, Teddy Veal, La Tech, 36, Tyre Brady, Marshall, 34. Other Marshall: Ryan Yurachek, 9th, 25.
Receiving yards: Jaylen Guyton, NT, 626, Thomas Owens, FIU (614), Tyre Brady, Marshall, 571.
Team total offense: North Texas 499.2, UTSA 460.8, Southern Miss 445.2. (Marshall 10th, 373.3)
Team total defense: UTSA 304.0, Southern Miss 313.3, Marshall 321.8.
Scoring offense: North Texas 37.2, FAU 34.2, UTSA 33.4. (Marshall 7th, 26.5)
Scoring defense: Marshall 15.0, WKU 18.2, Southern Miss 18.8.

Grades for Marshall-ODU game

OFFENSE: B-

Early 3-and-out set stage for 1st-half staleness, and Herd came up empty on first trip into ODU territory. But everything loosened up from the end of the half on, and the Herd gained 301 yards in the final 33:39. 195 yards rushing, one sack and zero turnovers.  This team is showing signs of brilliance.

DEFENSE: A

Held 2 good tailbacks to 92 combined yards, made life rough on a young QB, yielded 45 total yards after halftime. In 2 red-zone trips, forced a turnover and a field goal. Super.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Let’s see … false start on a field goal, blocked field goal, kickoff out of bounds, things that can sink this grade. Then there is a 92-yard punt and a fumble return TD on a kickoff. That will play.

QUARTERBACKING: B-

Those (successful) 3rd-and-10 running plays? Checks at the line. 3 TD passes, one thrown while hitting the deck. May have missed a few here and there, and 12 of 23 isn’t a pretty number. Arguably, I should erase the “minus.”

COACHING: B+

If you don’t think there were adjustments at halftime, you were watching something else.

OVERALL: B+

A trip to Middle Tennessee will kick the degree of difficulty up a notch or two.

Herd-ODU prediction

Old Dominion will not give up 453 yards rushing today to Marshall, as it did last week to Florida Atlantic. I guarantee it.

They won’t miss 39 tackles, won’t give up 58 points and won’t lose by 30. That I can pretty much guarantee.

On the other hand, Marshall is not going to give up a 200-yard rusher like it did last year at ODU. And no, ODU isn’t going to have two 100-yard backs in Jeremy Cox and Ray Lawry, either. (I am skeptical of Lawry’s comeback. Going from “out for the season” with a torn hamstring to 100 percent in Game 6 seems like a stretch.)

The Herd may leave another touchdown or two on the field, and might even give up a sack or two, but this will be another successful homecoming on a beautiful October day.

MARSHALL, 27-13

Conference USA notebook for 10/11

Abbreviated schedule in the league, with five teams getting the weekend off. As I recall, that will take care of most of the byes.
Looking at the games, in order of (my) interest:

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (3-3, 1-1) at ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (3-2, 1-1), 6:30 p.m.
TV:beIN Sports

After seeing UAB knock off Louisiana Tech last week at Legion Field, you know this game could put a mark on the East Division. Not sure the Blazers have that much magic again, but we’ll see.

MTSU linebacker Khalil Brooks earned his second defensive player of the week award against Florida International, racking up three sacks and five tackles for loss. And then there is LB Tavares Thomas rushing for three TDs as a Wildcat QB.

Another MTSU name for Herd fans to know: RB Brad Anderson, who has rushed for 260 yards and had 16 receptions over the last three games.

LINE: MTSU by 6.5. MTSU

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (3-1, 0-1) AT NORTH TEXAS (3-2, 2-0), 7 p.m.
TV: ESPN3

Oh, what do we have here? The Mean Green is in first place in the West, the only team unbeaten in league. This is a budding little rivalry in the Lone Star State, and this time it means something.

The Mean Green averages 510.8 total yards, 295.2 passing yards and 38.8 points per games, all leading C-USA, and Mason Fine has come out of the gate as Conference USA’s top QB (watching from a distance, anyway).

Both have the same last opponent, Southern Miss, with different results — the Mean Green won 43-28 in Hattiesburg and UTSA lost 31-29 in the Alamodome, when Dalton Sturm’s two-point conversion pass failed with 4 seconds left.

UTSA averages 35:31 in time of possession, third in the FBS. That would go a long way in reeling in NT.

LINE: UTSA by 2.5. UTSA

TEXAS-EL PASO (0-6, 0-2) at SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (3-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.
TV: Stadium

So Mike Price plants himself on the Miners’ sideline as interim coach and his team holds Western Kentucky to 282 total yards and loses just 15-14. I’m going to chalk that up as an inspired effort.

Ito Smith ran for 178 yards last week at UTSA, including 89 up the middle for a TD. That gave Southern Miss a 28-13 lead, making the Roadrunners play catch-up the rest of the way.

Generally, I go against UTEP in high humidity, and there will be plenty of that on an 88-degree day in Hattiesburg.

LINE: Southern Miss by 22.5. SOUTHERN MISS

TULANE (3-2) at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (3-2), 7 p.m.
TV: CUSA TV (If it works)

A 37-17 loss to MTSU temporarily puts to rest the scary specter of a C-USA championship in Riccardo Silva Stadium. The Panthers were brought back to earth by four sacks and a 306-total-yard day.

Tulane is coming off a 62-28 pounding of Tulsa, on which the Green Wave gained 653 total yards.

LINE: Tulane by 13.5. FIU

Last week: 4-2
Season: 26-22

Standings
East: FAU 2-0, Marshall 1-0, FIU 2-1, WKU, MTSU 1-1, Old Dominion 0-1, Charlotte 0-2.
West: North Texas 2-0, Southern Miss, UAB, La Tech, Rice 1-1, UTSA 0-1, UTEP 0-2.

Stat leaders
Rushing yards: Devon Singletary, FAU, 686; Jeffery Wilson, NT, 666; Ito Smith, Southern Miss, 613. (Marshall: Keion Davis 9th, 302.)

Passing yards: J’Mar Smith, La Tech, 1,529; Mason Fine, NT, 1,442; Mike White, WKU, 1,255; Chase Litton, Marshall, 1,206.

Pass efficiency: Dalton Sturm, UTSA (78-110-1, 1,026, 9 TDs, rating 174.4); Keon Howard, Southern Miss (27-43-0, 370, 3 TDs, rating 158.1); Mason Fine, NT (102-163-4, 1,442, 11 TDs, rating 154.3). (Marshall: Chase Litton 7th, 109-178-3, 1,206, 10 TDs, 133.3.)

Receptions: Teddy Veal, La Tech, 36; Ty Lee, MTSU, 35; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 29. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams 9th, 22).

Receiving yards: Tyre Brady, Marshall, 495; Thomas Owens, FIU, 462; Jalen Guyton, NT, 444.

Team total offense: North Texas 510.8, UTSA 478.8, Southern Miss 449.6. (Marshall 7th, 373.8)

Team total defense: UTSA 269.8, MTSU 341.2; Southern Miss 346.6, MTSU 348.2. (Marshall 5th, 346.8)

Herd-Charlotte notebook

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The marching orders for the Marshall defense were simple: Stop Hasaan Klugh.
The welts the Thundering Herd gave him in the 14-3 victory were a bonus.

Klugh was a major factor in beating the Herd a year ago in that 27-24 upset in Huntington. He was 17 of 31 passing for 203 yards, and ran for the game-winning touchdown.

On this gloomy Saturday night in Jerry Richardson Stadium, Klugh was stifled. He went 10 of 26 for 132 yards, with an interception. His NCAA passer rating was a lousy 73.2.

But more telling was his rushing numbers — he netted just 4 yards on eight attempts, including two sacks. MU was credited with seven quarterback hurries, which included hard hits that altered Klugh’s thrown.

Options and designed runs for Klugh got nowhere. As the game wore on, he didn’t seem to be running as fast, and he didn’t have a rushing attempt in the 49ers’ 10 plays in the fourth quarter.

“One of the guys on the sideline said, ‘Keep going at him; he’s getting up slower and slower every time you hit him,’” said linebacker Chase Hancock. “That was our game plan, shut him down, because we knew how dangerous he could be, and I think we did that.”

***

The Herd played its second game in the state of North Carolina for the first time since 1995 (North Carolina State, Western Carolina), which is always convenient for the thousands of MU grads who live in the Tar Heel State.

Charlotte announced the attendance at 10,584 in its 15,314-seat stadium, a figure that no doubt includes no-shows. You could put the kelly green contingent at 1,500, perhaps 2,000.

They were loud and proud.

“What a great showing our fans made,” said Herd coach Doc Holliday. “I think we had more fans than they did in this arena. I can’t tell you how much our fan base means to us.”

***

As ugly as the contest was, Marshall had few moments of discomfort, as far as the final result. Tight end Ryan Yurachek cited a difference from the Herd team that lost to Charlotte last year.

“We were think after the game, we wouldn’t have won this game last year,” he said. “We would have found a way to lose this game — defense wouldn’t have gotten off the field, offense wouldn’t have gotten the first downs we needed [late in the game]. It shows how far we’ve come.”

***

Other items of note:

* Safety Malik Gant, who had developed into perhaps the team’s best one-on-one tackler, led the Herd with 11 stops. He was credited for 1.5 tackles for loss. His 38 stops are now second on the team, behind Hancock’s 45.

* If you had Obi Obijalo catching more passes than Marcel Williams, you had one really good crystal ball. But that’s what happened, as Obijalo caught his first MU pass. Williams was shut out, which may not happen the rest of the season.

* Bizarre play of MU’s season: Chris Jackson intercepted a Klugh pass, returned it 4 yards before being hit hard by Uriah LeMay. He then fumbled, and Charlotte’s Nate Mullen returned it 21 yards to the Marshall 38.

On top of that, Jackson was official called for a block in the back, though he may have been the wrong person announced.
That was Charlotte’s deepest penetration in the first half. The 49ers lost 2 yards on first down, threw two incomplete passes and punted — an 18-yard popup at that.

* Receiver Hyleck Foster has permanently changed from No. 2 to No. 6. Last week, he had to change his jersey on special teams to avoid a duplicate number with Jaquan Yulee.

* The game lasted 2 hours, 56 minutes, a rare sub-3 hour game in the FBS ranks.

Grades for Charlotte game

OFFENSE: D

Ran for 212 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, and gained 404 total. No sacks, keeping MU’s season total at 2 after 5 games. But these guys threw up on themselves in Charlotte’s end of the field. 2 fumbles, 1 lost (remember, another fumble came on an interception return). Give these guys credit for a clock-killing drive, but this performance was otherwise dreadful.

DEFENSE: A

I know, I know, Charlotte’s offense is grim. But the Herd made sure it stayed that way. Held the 49ers to 80 rushing yards, 212 total, and clobbered Hasaan Klugh the entire game. You didn’t see Klugh runnin’ too fast late in the game, did you?

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Worst game for this bunch. Vedvik missed a field goal — his first miss that’s on him — and gave Charlotte hope with a rare lousy punt (38 yards with 15-yard return, putting 49ers on Marshall 45). And we saw an absolute no-no — a penalty on a return. Starting drives at the 12 is no way to live.

QUARTERBACKING: D+

Chase Litton should have had a better day than 19 of 28 for 192 yards. He should have had a great day. He let 2 TDs slip away — one on a long pass to Tyre Brady and another to Ryan Yurachek.

COACHING: C

I didn’t like 3rd-down play-calling at all. It was as if the staff was happy to score 14 points and turn the game over to the defense. That defense wasn’t giving up much of anything, though — Chuck Heater had those guys *prepared*.

OVERALL: C

C- is the lowest grade I give for wins, if you’re wondering. The Herd had no chance of losing this game, but 14-3 against the No. 130 team in the FBS stinks to high heaven. But it’s a Conference USA road win, so what the heck.

 

Marshall-Charlotte prediction

Hello, Herd fans!

It is time to begin Marshall’s 13th league season in Conference USA with the Thundering Herd’s second trip to Charlotte. In 2015, the Herd strung up the 49ers 31-3 at the half, then won 34-10 after a very blah second half.

Last year, a veteran 49ers squad came to Huntington and gave Herd fans indigestion, stealing a 27-24 win at Edwards Stadium. There is the starting point of this prediction.

The Herd will have some trouble with QB Hasaan Klugh, who scored the go-ahead TD last year, and blossoming RB Benny LeMay, maybe to the point of giving up 100 yards to each. If it’s just 100 and not much more, that’s fine.

Why? Because I have no faith in Charlotte’s passing attack. Watch to see if the 49ers pick up any third downs with 7 or more yards to go.

Expect more wrinkles in Greg Adkins’ second game as offensive coordinator, but I’m not sure it matters. The 49ers hit Florida International with surprises in the first half, then went to sleep after halftime and lost by a point.

The 49ers lost a LOT of players on both sides, and it will show in this game. So will Marshall’s much-improved athletic ability, plus the return of MLB Juwon Young. I can’t think of a better game to make his Herd debut, and I don’t think rust will be much of a factor.

I look for a repeat of the 2015 game. Just remember, if your guys lead by 28 at the half, it doesn’t mean they win by 56.

MARSHALL, 45-14