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.”
* 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.