Inside Marshall Sports

Marshall-FIU notebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference USA notebook for 11/12

Hello, Herd fans!

This week, I’ll make a bowl eligibility chart of sorts. Of course, the Herd is out of it. But check it out.

Last week

Most notable

Texas-San Antonio 45, Middle Tennessee 25: 4 turnovers and the injury to the Blue Raiders’ Brent Stockstill were the big stories, but don’t overlook the Roadrunners’ 270 yards and 16 first downs rushing. That helped UTSA hog the ball for 37:50.

Is that a good omen for Marshall, one of the league’s lesser running attacks? We shall see.

LINE: La Tech by 22.5. TAKE THE BULLDOGS … THEY’RE PRETTY GOOD.

Charlotte 38, Southern Mississippi 27: Well, you can upgrade Marshall’s loss to the 49ers from “the most embarrassing in school history” to merely “painful.”

Southern Miss gave up some really long plays (72, 58 runs, 49 pass), just as it did against UTSA … and just as it didn’t do against Marshall. Charlotte’s Terrance Winchester was the defensive player of the week (2 int., 2 pass break-ups), and Juwan Foggie was the special teams POW for his blocked punt that led to a TD.

Louisiana Tech 45, North Texas 25: Carlos Henderson caught 5 TD passes for this second time this year, covering 52, 24, 10, and 9. His season line: 59 catches, 1,168 yards and 15 TDs. (And get this: Trent Taylor is higher in the first 2 categories — 98 for 1,318.)

Hold your nose

Florida Atlantic 42, Rice 25: Rice, you must be awful. FAU had 657 total yards, Jason Driskel passed for 317 and Devin Singletary ran for 252. Singletary was the other co-offensive POW.

Old Dominion 38, Marshall 14: No further comment needed.

Texas-El Paso 42, Houston Baptist 10: A cheap way to get Aaron Jones 228 rushing yards.

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

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.

Still fighting, with schedule

UTSA 5-4: at La Tech, at Texas A&M, Charlotte

Southern Miss 5-4: at ODU, at North Texas, La Tech

Charlotte 4-5: Rice, MTSU, UTSA

North Texas 4-5: at WKU, Southern Miss, at UTEP

UTEP 3-6: at FAU, at Rice, North Texas

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

UTSA at Louisiana Tech, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3: Suddenly, this carries a “game of the year” feel. Think about it — if the Roadrunners pull the upset, they own tiebreakers against La Tech and Southern Miss.

LINE:

Southern Miss at Old Dominion, 3:30 p.m., ASN: Winner stays alive in their respective divisions. ODU gets another chance to look like a legit contender.

LINE: Off (status of USM QB Nick Mullens).

North Texas at WKU, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3: Over his last 5 games the Hilltoppers’ Mike White has completed 73.5 percent of his passes, averaged 338 yards and has a TD-Int ratio of 15-2. Marshall will have fun with him.

LINE: WKU by 28.5. BAD BEAT WAITING TO HAPPEN. TAKE NT.

Rice at Charlotte, 2 p.m., Campus Insiders: Did you have the 49ers clinching a .500 record in conference? Surrrrrrre you did.

LINE: Charlotte by 10.5, which probably is a program record. OWLS TO COVER.

UTEP at Florida Atlantic, 6 p.m.: The interesting thing about this game is Aaron Jones is leading the league in rushing, 1,168-1,145 over MTSU’s I’Tavius Mathers. Mathers plays Marshall. Rev it up, gentlemen.

LINE: FAU by 3. Really? TAKE THE MINERS.

Last week vs. line: 3-3 (including MU game). Season: 31-39.

Grades for Old Dominion game

OFFENSE: F

Until the Herd finished with passes of 26 and 24 yards, it had 164 total yards, 8 first downs.

DEFENSE: F

Didn’t tackle well against Ray Lawry, who rushed for 209 yards. Defense made itself susceptible to easy throws downfield.

SPECIALS TEAMS: B-

Props to Kaare Vedvik for running for a first down on the fake punt. And where was this Brandon Rodgers guy hiding?

QUARTERBACKING: F

He had problems with receivers not being open, but he is simply not accurate when they are.

COACHING: F

ODU brutally outcoached MU, it seemed. And why do you burn Brandon Rodgers’ redshirt and then finally have him returning kickoffs in Week 9? Looks as if he should have been doing it earlier.

OVERALL: F

The only question left: Is this team worse than the 2007 Herd?

Prediction for ODU game

Hello, Herd fans!

If you’re reading this, thanks for hanging in with me during this dreadful football season. You may start your arguments over which Marshall team is worse: 2007 or this one.

In game No. 3 in Norfolk, you can chalk up another struggling night for the offense. Try as Tony Pittman may, the Thundering Herd will again fail to have a 100-yard rusher. Chase Litton will average 6 yards a pass, if that much.

The Monarchs will have one 100-yard rusher and maybe two — that would be 9 this season, right? David Washington will have another turnover-free game, and the Herd will give up its usual 400-plus yard game.

But the Herd’s two tailbacks might combine for, say 140 yards, and the line will somehow keep Litton mostly upright, and he might actually remember Ryan Yurachek exists. Kaare Vedvik will have another good punting day, if not like that of last week. There may be a long kickoff return in there.

The Herd will hold down the big plays which have propelled the Monarchs and … wait for it … pull off the upset.

“Pull off the upset” over ODU? That’s just weird.

MARSHALL 27, ODU 24

Conference USA notebook for 11/5

Hello, Herd fans!

I masterfully displayed by inability to pick Conference USA games against the spread, chucking 5 of the 6 games last week. (Hey to Louisiana Tech for saving me.)

A good Marshall note in a season lacking them: Kaare Vedvik was named the league’s special-teams player of the week for his 72-yard bomb and numerous time pinning Southern Mississippi deep in its end.

Last week

Most notable

Middle Tennessee 42, Florida International 35: The Panthers’ Alex McGough throws a “pick-6” with 1:22 left. How FIU is that?

MTSU’s Brent Stockstill threw for 296 yards, McGough for 307. Marshall gets those two back-to-back.

Old Dominion 31, Texas-El Paso 21: The Miners took a 13-10 lead midway through the third quarter, but the Monarchs scored the next 3 TDs in rapid-fire fashion to put the game away. Big plays included David Washington’s passes to Jonathan Duhart of 26 and 77 yards, plus Ray Lawry’s TD run of 40 yards.

Texas-San Antonio 31, North Texas 17: The Mean Green got 257 passing yards and an 80-yard TD run from Mason Fine, but also turned it over 4 times.

Hold your nose

Western Kentucky 52, Florida Atlantic 3: Charlie Partridge, you are sooooooooo fired! The Hilltoppers ran up 661 total yards, and the Owls didn’t convert a 3rd down until their final possession.

Southern Miss 24, Marshall 14: The Herd suffered more 3-and-outs than the Owls, 8-6.

Louisiana Tech 61, Rice 16: Tech’s Trent Taylor became the program’s all-time leader in career receptions, with his 284 topping the 280 by Troy Edwards. The Owls finally scored on a blocked PAT and return, making the score 54-2.

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

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

FAU (1-7, 0-4) at Rice (1-7, 0-5), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3: LET’S GET IT ON! Who doesn’t love a world-class pillow fight? ESPN’s “Bottom 10” loves it, calling it the PFOC — Pillow Fight of the Century. As tens of Rice Students form their human tunnel and taunt the visitors over their average SAT scores, the over-under will be 6.5 turnovers.

Just remember these Owl mascots are different, as FAU’s is the burrowing owl, which is considered endangered in Canada and Mexico, and “of special concern” in Florida and most of the western USA.

That describes these two teams perfectly.

LINE: RICE by 4. SURELY, FAU ISN’T THAT DREADFUL. RIGHT?

UTSA (4-4, 3-2) at Middle Tennessee (6-2, 3-1), 2:30 p.m., ESPN3: I’Tavius Mathers now has 1,066 yards rushing, the first Blue Raider to rush for that many since 2002. D.J. Sanders was named defensive player of the week, as he was the guy who returned McGough’s errant pass 48 yards to beat the Panthers.

Stockstill was the league’s player of the week. The Raiders have has seven such honors over all 3 phases.

LINE: MTSU by 20.5. DON’T LIKE ROADPLODDERS ON THE ROAD.

Florida International (3-6, 3-2) at Western Kentucky (6-3, 4-1), 5:30 p.m., beIN Sports: I know the Panthers were shelled by Louisiana Tech a few weeks back, but they’re still playing spirited under interim coach Ron Cooper. Another WKU running back to worry about: Marquez Trigg, who rushed for 84 yards in the first half vs. FAU.

LINE: WKU by 29.5. HILLTOPPERS WIN HANDILY, BUT NOT BY THAT MUCH.

Louisiana Tech (6-3, 4-1) at North Texas (4-4, 2-2), 5:30 p.m., ESPN3: Southern Miss has 1 loss and UTSA and NT has 2, so the stakes aren’t small here. Tech finished with 735 total yards against Rice.

LINE: Tech by 20.5. BULLDOGS ARE ROLLING TOO HARD FOR THIS ONE.

Charlotte (3-5, 2-2) at Southern Miss (5-3, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. ASN: This has potential shutout written all over it.

LINE: Southern Miss by 19.5. TAKE THE GOLDEN EAGLES.

FCS parade: Houston Baptist at Texas-El Paso.

Last week vs. line: a yucky 1-5 (including MU game). Season: 28-36.