Inside Marshall Sports

Herd notebook: Morrell pressed into service again

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HUNTINGTON — Garet Morrell’s numbers weren’t great and he led Marshall to a single touchdown in its 60-6 loss to Western Kentucky, but his teammates bragged on him afterward.

It was the second start on short notice for the 6-foot-3 freshman from Leesburg, Georgia, and it came against the second- or third-toughest team on the schedule, WKU. His first career start came against Louisville, then ranked third in the nation.

In both instances, he replaced Chase Litton. The sophomore had shoulder issues, coach Doc Holliday said after the game.

“Ah, man, a lot of respect for that guy,” receiver Josh Knight said of Morrell. “Tough. He’s a true freshman coming in … a lot of love for him. He fought for us.”

He threw 35 passes and completed 19, but only racked up 143 yards, with two interceptions. He had the game’s long play of 32 yards, a toss to Michael Clark on third-and-10 at the WKU 47.

His NCAA passer rating is a 86.61, mediocre at best.

The Herd scored its only touchdown on that drive, cutting the insurmountable lead to 48-6. Alas, the Hilltoppers picked up two points after returning a blocked extra point.

The play-calling was conservative, but not as much as it was in the Herd’s 59-24 loss to Louisville. But it didn’t help Morrell that he was sacked twice and hurried seven times.

The toughest thing the Hilltoppers threw at him?

“Really, the D-line,” Morrell said. “To be an efficient quarterback, you’ve got to have time in the pocket. I love my O-line, we’re going to get on it, they’re going to get on it [but] it’s hard to not have time and make plays happen.”

The drive that helped the Herd avoid its first shutout in 16 years covered 16 plays, 82 yards and took 8 minutes, 49 seconds, the latter an MU season high.

He finished the drive with a 4-yard pass to Ryan Yurachek, who caught his 16th career TD pass. Yurachek missed the Herd’s game last week against Florida International.

“Bum leg or not bum leg, I’ve got faith in him,” Morrell said. “He’s going to make a play.”

Morrell finishes the season 33 of 67 for 290 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating is 96.36.

***

The Herd scored for the 207th consecutive game, but it came to the 1:57 mark of the third quarter. The streak dates back to an infamous 42-0 loss at Toledo on Oct. 14, 2000.

MU’s last close call came in a 16-6 loss in heavy rain at Central Florida in 2011. The Herd only scored on a defensive touchdown, a 12-yard fumble recovery by Rashad Jackson with 3:17 left in the third.

The season before, the Herd only scored on a blocked field goal return in the first quarter by Ahmed Shakoor in a 45-7 loss at Ohio State. The Herd lost 24-7 in 2009 and 27-3 in 2008 at West Virginia, but both scores came in the first half.

Other close calls: 31-3 at Miami in the 2007 season opener, 42-7 at Southern Mississippi in the 2006 finale, seven-point games at Kansas State and Tennessee earlier that season, three-point games at Texas-El Paso and Memphis in 2005, a 13-3 loss at Georgia in 2004 and the 45-6 loss at Miami (Ohio) in 2003.

Briefly

  • No, Marshall did not have the biggest collapse in major-college football, as far as the win column is concerned. The Herd fell from 10-3 in 2015 to 3-9.
  • That “honor” belongs to Michigan State, which took a dive from 12-2 to 3-9.
  • The Herd had just one tackle for loss. Joe Massaquoi made that tackle, throwing Anthony Wales for a 3-yard loss to the Marshall 21-yard line.
  • That was rendered moot on the next play, when Mike White completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Taywan Taylor.
  • Kylen Towner’s 93-yard TD return of the opening kickoff was the first such return the Herd has given up since UCF’s Quincy McDuffie struck twice in 2012, a 54-17 Knights win.
  • Marshall’s losing home record drops it to 151-30 (.834), tentatively falling from first to third in the FBS. Houston (.857) and Georgia Southern (.837) entered Saturday’s play with higher percentages. Houston’s stadium is in its third year, Georgia Southern is in its 33rd.

WKU game prediction

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Hello, Herd fans!

Let’s put this season out of its misery.

Little by little, I have been dissecting what went wrong with this season. So far, we have a receiving situation not helped by the failed WR signings of 2015, we have defections and dismissals from the program, and we have injuries. The QB hasn’t been all that good, and the beat-up O-line can’t run-block. Defense struggles against the run, as well.

And here comes a team that is equipped to exploit every weakness. And the Hilltoppers will.

On to 2017!

WESTERN KENTUCKY 52, MARSHALL 14

Conference USA notebook

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Hello, Herd fans!
The East Division race comes down to Western Kentucky beating Marshall, with Old Dominion possibly picking up the pieces in case of an upset. Louisiana Tech plays Southern Mississippi on Friday, but the Bulldogs have clinched the West.

Southern Miss and two other teams are fighting for a bowl bid. If all three fail, only *4* of the 13 teams will be bowl-eligible.

With some format changes, here we go:

Standings
East: WKU 6-1, Old Dominion 6-1, Florida International 4-3, MTSU 4-3, Charlotte 3-4, Marshall 2-5, Florida Atlantic 2-5
West: La Tech 6-1 (clinched), Texas-San Antonio 4-3, Southern Miss 3-4, North Texas 3-4, Rice 2-6, Texas-El Paso 1-6

Bowl eligibility chart
Bowl tie-ins: New Mexico, Boca Raton, Bahamas, New Orleans, Hawaii, Heart of Dallas (6); secondary partnership with Independence Bowl
Eligible: WKU, ODU, MTSU, La. Tech (4)
Ineligible: Florida International, Marshall, FAU, Rice, UTEP, Charlotte.

Still fighting, with schedule
UTSA 5-6: Charlotte
Southern Miss 5-6: La Tech
North Texas 5-6: at UTEP

Notable stat leaders
Rushing yards: Aaron Jones, UTEP 1,472, I’Tavius Mathers, MTSU 1,291, Ito Smith, Southern Miss 1,194.
Passing yards: Ryan Higgins, La Tech 3,460, Mike White, WKU 3,373, Brent Stockstill, MTSU 2,801.
Pass efficiency: Mike White, WKU 179.5, Ryan Higgins, La Tech 177.2, David Washington, ODU 155.4.
Receptions: Trent Taylor, La Tech 103, Richie James, MTSU 93, Taywan Taylor, WKU 77.
Receiving yards: Richie James, MTSU 1,343, Trent Taylor, La Tech 1,343, Taywan Taylor, WKU 1,340.
Team scoring: Louisiana Tech 45.8, WKU 42.5, MTSU 36.7.
Team total yardage: Louisiana Tech 540.7, WKU 509.8, MTSU 493.7.

This week’s offerings, in order of interest (MU-WKU not included):

FIU (4-7, 4-3) at Old Dominion (8-3, 6-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3: I’d almost give interim Ron Cooper coach-of-the-year honors for leading the Panthers to a 4-4 mark after the firing of Ron Turner. But that award belongs to the Monarchs’ Bobby Wilder.
LINE: ODU by 13 1/2. FIU’S INTEREST WANES.

Louisiana Tech (8-3, 6-1) at Southern Miss (5-6, 3-4), 4 p.m. Friday, ESPNews: The Golden Eagles’ missing a bowl game would be the biggest collapse story in C-USA, if not for Marshall.
LINE: OFF.

Charlotte (4-7, 3-4) at UTSA (5-6, 4-3): 7 p.m., Campus Insiders: The Roadrunners’ Frank Wilson should get some coach-of-the-year love, too..
LINE: UTSA by 10. ROADRUNNERS WILL ROLL

FAU (3-8, 2-5) at Middle Tennessee (7-4, 4-3), 5:30 p.m., beIN Sports: If the Owls win in what could be Charlie Partridge’s last game and Marshall loses, the Herd finishes in the East Division basement.
LINE: MTSU by 13.5. THE OWLS LOSE INTEREST.

Rice (3-8) at Stanford (8-3), 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks: Why?
LINE: Stanford by 36. CARDS ARE THE SMARTER PICK.

Last week vs. line: 3-2 (including MU game). Season: 36-44.

Marshall-FIU notebook

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MIAMI — Once again, Marshall’s defense gave up a 100-yard rusher.

Make that twice again.

For the second time this season, the Thundering Herd gave up two 100-yard rushers, this time against Florida International in a 31-14 setback Saturday night at FIU Stadium.

Alex Gardner, who became FIU’s all-time leading rusher, was an obvious suspect, and he gained 119 yards on 14 carries. But No. 2 man Anthony Jones topped that total by 2 yards, rushing 17 times for 121 yards.

Florida Atlantic (Devin Singletary 111, Greg Howell 109) is the other team to run for a twin century against the Herd. Gardner and Jones became the ninth and 10th Herd foes to top 100. The Panthers ran for 259 yards, the sixth time an opponent has topped 250.

Both backs presented a combination of power and shiftiness, but one Herd defender said something was a little different about the scheme.

“They were trying to trap me, make the running back get outside of me,” said cornerback Rodney Allen. “It was pretty hard for me to get outside of him … It was pretty tough for us. It was something different, something we never saw on film.”

***

Like his teammates, quarterback Chase Litton thought the Herd turned a corner in the previous game, a 42-17 win over Middle Tennessee. But that turned into a case of one step forward, two steps back.

Litton went 29 of 42 for 301 yards, but all that was inflated by a pass-heavy fourth quarter. He went 14 of 19 for 152 yards in those final 15 minutes, throwing his second touchdown of the game.

That was a 24-yarder to Deon-Tay McManus, but the Herd still trailed 24-14 with 3:53 left. Back in the first quarter, Litton hit Emanuel Byrd from 17 yards to tie the game.

But Litton’s day was marred by three throws — two first-half interceptions and a critical incompletion on third-and-goal at the FIU 3. On that play, his lob to Josh Knight was caught, but Knight was well out of bounds.

Then Amareto Curraj’s 20-yard field goal was blocked, in part because of key injuries to the Herd’s protection unit. FIU seized the momentum and pulled away.

“We had a perfect play called,” Litton said. “It’s timing, you put it in the corner, I put in in the corner, I threw it too far. That’s 100 percent on me.
“That’s not on the field-goal unit. They shouldn’t have even been in that situation. They should have been kicking an extra point.”

***

With his season over north of the border, Rakeem Cato was back in his native Miami to take in the game. He made his appropriate rounds with the team before the game.

Cato’s Montreal Alouettes finished 7-11 and out of the Canadian Football League playoffs. He played 11 games hitting 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,403 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions.

Litton was again appreciative for his early lessons from Cato, who was finishing his career as Litton joined the team for practice before the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl.

“He’s a legend here,” Litton said. “There’s a reason for that — he didn’t have a 3-8 football season, the way he got to work, the way he got the guys around him. I’ve got to do the same thing.”

Briefly

* Litton’s early TD pass came after cornerback Rodney Allen intercepted his second pass of the quarter. Allen entered the game with 11 pass breakups, but those were his first two picks of the season.

* With the blocked field goal, Curraj is now 4 of 10 for the season. The Herd is 10 of 25 since Nick Smith began the 2015 season by making his first 12.

* MU did not lead at any point in Saturday’s game, the sixth time that has happened.

* Attrition brought on some odd positioning. Most notable was the emergency use of A.J. Addison at tight end, wearing No. 92 instead of his 74.
That was brought on by Ryan Yurachek not dressing, Kaleb Harris not making the trip and Byrd hobbling off during the game.

Defensive tackle Nyquan Harris also missed his second game in a row. Linebacker Davon Durant returned to action, playing some at defensive end.

* FIU tight end Jonnu Smith, thought to be out for the season, ended up playing and catching a pass. He was badly burned by boiling water during a domestic dispute with his pregnant girlfriend.

* The loss ended offensive line coach Alex Mirabal’s three-game winning streak over his old employer, two of them in his native Miami. Mirabal last lost at FIU Stadium when the Panthers lost to Louisiana-Monroe 23-17 in overtime in the 2012 season finale. Mario Cristobal was fired afterward, and Mirabal hooked up with the Herd.

Grades for FIU game

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OFFENSE: F

Didn’t break the 300-yard mark until late in the game with the score already 24-7. 78 yards rushing, 75 by the 2 tailbacks. And then there was the burning of 13 minutes on 2 drives that did not result in a score.

DEFENSE: D

Somehow kept the Herd in the game before those aforementioned 2 drives, but gave up 2 more 100-yard rushers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

That painful blocked field goal, plus kickoff returns weren’t good.

QUARTERBACKING: D

It’s tough to flunk a 301-yard performance, but this could have qualified.

COACHING: F

So Anthony Anderson runs over a defender and gets inside the 1-yard line and what do you do? Put in a smaller back, of course. … And how ’bout those swing passes on 3rd-and-18?

OVERALL: F

One more week … I keep telling myself that … one more week.

FIU game prediction

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Hello, Herd fans!

Good tidings from Miami or wherever I am as you read this. Rest assured, I am dressed like a total beach bum with floral shirt, flops, etc. … maybe even at the game.

Fortunately, the sun sets at 5:30 and the game begins at 7. This game does not merit wasted sunshine.

I picked Florida International to win in our “Gridiron Gurus,” following my vow not to pick the Herd for the rest of the season. I’m seriously rethinking that now.

I’m unsure if the Herd can bottle up its performance from last week and take it on the road in a game of 3-7 teams. But if the running game stays on its footing and Chase Litton and his receivers can click again, they can chew up a defense giving up 36 points a game.
Conversely, FIU’s Alex Gardner will be the next 100-yard rusher against the Herd, the ninth of the season. But with QB Alex McGough and TE Jonnu Smith both out, Gardner might need 200. The Herd has an opportunity to force a few turnovers, and might do that.

Will FIU players be charged up by the recent hiring of Butch Davis, or will they let the usual uncertainty that surrounds a coaching change seep in early?

It would be just like FIU to flop in that circumstance, but I’m fearing a flat effort from the Herd in its final road game.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 28, MARSHALL 27

Conference USA notebook for 11/19

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The division races have become boring. Louisiana Tech has wrapped up the West, and Western Kentucky has a bye week and a clinching game at Marshall — and the Hilltoppers will have clinched if Old Dominion spits the bit this week at Florida Atlantic.
So with a yawn, here we go:

Last week

Most notable

Louisiana Tech 63, Texas-San Antonio 35: Carlos Henderson caught three TD passes, giving him 16 to go with 1,179 yards on 61 catches. But Trent Taylor is topping him with 103 receptions for 1,343 yards and 10 TDs. First and fourth in the league in yardage, if you need it.

Rice 22, Charlotte 21: All hail the Rice Owls! They came back from a 21-0 deficit to record their first conference win. QB Tyler Stehling ran for 2 TDs and passed for another, gaining 372 total yards.

ODU 51, Southern Mississippi 35: I’m sure you had the Monarchs beating Marshall and Southern Miss back-to-back, right? With their top 2 QBs out, the Eagles burned freshman Keon Howard’s redshirt.

Marshall 42, Middle Tennessee 17: A refreshing result for a Marshall beat writer, believe me.

Hold your nose

Western Kentucky 45, North Texas 7: Mike White out-threw the Mean Green’s total offense, 316-232.

FAU 35, Texas-El Paso 32: Aaron Jones became UTEP’s all-time leading rusher (3,738), but the Miners have repeated squandered his efforts.

C-USA best results vs. P-5
Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20 (Tech had ball with lead in 4th quarter)
Arizona 32, UTSA 28 (Roadrunners led in 4th quarter)
Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 30 (WKU went for 2 and the win)
Middle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45
Overall vs P-5: 2-18

Standings
East: WKU 6-1, Old Dominion 5-1, Charlotte 3-3, FIU 3-3, MTSU 3-3, Marshall 2-4, FAU 2-4
West: La Tech 6-1 (clinched), UTSA 4-3, Southern Miss 3-3, North Texas 2-4, UTEP 1-5, Rice 1-6

Bowl eligibility chart
Bowl tie-ins: New Mexico, Boca Raton, Bahamas, New Orleans, Hawaii, Heart of Dallas (6); secondary partnership with Independence Bowl
Eligible: WKU, ODU, MTSU, La. Tech (4)
Ineligible: Florida International, Marshall, FAU, Rice, UTEP.

Still fighting
UTSA 5-5: at Texas A&M, Charlotte
Southern Miss 5-5: at North Texas, La Tech
Charlotte 4-6: MTSU, UTSA
North Texas 4-6: Southern Miss, at UTEP

This week’s offerings, in order of interest (MU-FIU not included):

Old Dominion at Florida Atlantic, 6 p.m., Campus Insiders: Folks, the Monarchs are alive in the division race. They must take care of business and watch Western Kentucky lose to Marshall, but they’re alive.
LINE: ODU by 8. MONARCHS COME CLOSE TO TAKING A STEP BACK, OR DO SO OUTRIGHT.

Middle Tennessee at Charlotte, 2 p.m., ESPN3: You notice something about the improved 49ers? They haven’t won a league game at home.
LINE: MTSU by 4. BLUE RAIDERS WILL BE ANGRY.

Southern Miss at North Texas, 5:30 p.m., beIN Sports: With La Tech looming in the season finale, the Golden Eagles had better pick up win No. 6 here, freshman QB or not.
LINE: Off (USM’s QB issues).

UTSA at Texas A&M, noon, ESPN2/ESPNU: My usual smart-aleck remarks about SEC homecoming do not apply, as A&M does not organize a homecoming week.
LINE: A&M by 27. ROADRUNNERS SNEAK IN GARBAGE-TIME COVER.

UTEP at Rice, noon, ESPN3: For the West Division basement.
LINE: Pick ‘em. MINERS, I GUESS.

Last week vs. line: 2-3 (including MU game). Season: 33-42.

Grades for Middle Tennessee game

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OFFENSE: A-

I usually reserve this level for 500-yard games, but there was much to like. 207 rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 246 yards passing, 2 long drive, nothing wasted on short fields, no turnovers. What else do you want?

DEFENSE: A

Struggled with Richie James in the first half, but the 2nd half was a total lockdown on everybody. Held I’Tavius Mothers to 45 yards and forced 2 fumbles. Gave the offense 4 short fields, all leading to TDs. 283 total yards. Wow.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Not much of a factor, really. If dropped punt snap and 2 kickoff return mistakes played a bigger role in the outcome, this grade would have plummeted.

QUARTERBACKING: A

Fewer bad throws, good touch on Chase Litton’s *4* TD passes. He looked comfortable rolling out.

COACHING: A-

Other than a missed opportunity late in the first half, kudos all the way around.

OVERALL: A

The proper tribute to the “75” and the Young Thundering Herd, and a sign that this team hasn’t packed it in.

 

 

Prediction for Middle Tenn game

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Hello, Herd fans!

I bring you good tidings, for basketball season is upon us! Those who can should congregate at Cam Henderson Center to see the Hurryin’ Herd open the regular season against North Carolina Central.

Should you dare to come to the football game against Middle Tennessee State, just remember two things:

The Young Thundering Herd, which picked up the pieces 45 years ago.

Three bills.

The latter refers to the 300 yards I fear I’Tavius Mathers will gain against the run-challenged Herd defense. I do believe the last 300-yard rusher to riddle the Herd was Eastern Kentucky’s Markus Thomas in 1989 (alas, I traveled there as a paying customer).

Mathers may not get all 300 on the ground, though, as he is the Blue Raiders’ No. 2 pass-catcher. But he might go nuts, even more than did Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry last week.

The Herd defense may also suffer another 35 minutes on the field, thanks to the Herd offense. I have no further comment on the latter unit.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE 35, MARSHALL 14