By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall lost a big game, but there are still goals to be reached.
Raise your hand if you are a Thundering Herd fan who is tired of hearing that.
There were several sources of disgust to be derived from Saturday’s 54-17 embarrassment at the hands of Big East-bound Central Florida. A running game that managed just 66 yards on 36 carries. Two kickoffs returned for touchdowns by the same player. Dropped passes at head-shaking frequency.
But the thing that should have them feeling even worse is that when the Herd got punched in the mouth, they laid down and waited for the final bell.
The 1992 team that won Marshall’s first Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) national championship was honored during the game. By all accounts, the players from that team were embarrassed by the current team’s performance.
As well they should have been.
The Knights are obviously a good team and the class of a way-down Conference USA. But Marshall went in with the nation’s fourth-ranked offense and should have been able to put up more of a fight.
UCF even tried to make it easier, turning the ball over three times. Marshall never did give the ball away, but didn’t take advantage when opportunities were given.
“I’m surprised,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “To be plus-3 in turnovers and get beat like we did is unusual, but it was the case here tonight.”
The way the game played out statistically can be viewed as a surprise. But maybe the end result shouldn’t be.
The three teams to lose to Marshall — Western Carolina, Rice and Southern Miss — are now a combined 3-22 on the season. The five teams that have beaten the Herd — West Virginia, Ohio, Purdue, Tulsa and UCF — are 28-11.
In three of those losses, the Herd was held to under 100 yards rushing. UCF outgained Marshall 278-66 on the ground.
One of the most telling plays was Latavius Murray’s 75-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. Murray looked to be stopped in the middle, but got away from a gang of tacklers and went to the right sideline.
Then there were the kickoff returns, of 97 and 98 yards, by Quincy McDuffie. Marshall has allowed kickoff returns in consecutive home games, also giving up Trey Watts’ 95-yarder in a loss to Tulsa Oct. 6.
Once it was clear the Herd’s running game was not going to work, the Knights were able to tee off on quarterback Rakeem Cato, sacking him four times and nearly creating a safety in the second quarter.
Cato was 35 of 62 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. He was victimized by a horrific number of dropped passes, which ranged anywhere from eight to 27, depending on who you ask.
Tight end Gator Hoskins dropped what should have been a first-down pass on the first play of the game, setting the wrong kind of tone.
“It did, unfortunately,” Holliday said. “The guys have made plays all year. Unfortunately we did have a few drops. It’s frustrating. We had some momentum going and had some opportunities to make plays and just couldn’t get it done. When you play a good football team you have to make the plays when you get the opportunities. We didn’t tonight.”
“No, I don’t think it was effort,” Holliday added later. “I thought our kids prepared well and had a good week. We were in a position to make some plays out there early and just didn’t make them. It’s unfortunate.”
Cato, like his coach, would not lay blame on anyone.
“We didn’t make (plays) as a whole,” he said. “We just have to get better at those things. We have to keep working hard. ... They’re a decent team. We still hold ourselves (accountable). Any time we lose the game, it’s on (everyone). We did stupid things that we have to get corrected. It’s starting to get too late for us to correct the simple things. We just need to do better.”
Cato said his message to the team remains the same.
“Hold your head (high). Not only play for Marshall, but play for yourself,” the sophomore quarterback said. “You’re a man. Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone see you down. Just hold your head high and keep playing.”
So fear not, for the four teams remaining on Marshall’s schedule have combined to lose 22 of 33 games.
Surely the Herd can beat three of them to attain bowl eligibility at 6-6 for the third time in four seasons.
— E-mail: gfauber@