By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
This was the kind of performance Marshall coach Doc Holliday has been looking for.
The Thundering Herd was sound in all three game phases Saturday, knocking off hapless Southern Miss 59-24. It was, according to Holliday, the team’s most complete effort all season.
“It was a great team out there,” Holliday said. “I thought special teams were tremendous. I thought defense played their tails off and the offense, with the exception of one time, moved the ball well.”
That the offense was on target — the Thundering Herd set a season-high for points scored and ran a season-low 85 plays to do it — comes as no surprise. Marshall went over 600 yards in total offense for the second time this season.
It was the defense that came through, allowing a season’s-best 331 total yards. The Herd forced three turnovers and sacked freshman quarterback Anthony Alford three times.
Containing Alford was a focal point at practice last week.
“That’s what we were worried about, him getting outside,” defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow said. “We watched films; we were worried about keeping him inside.”
Sparrow had a nice game, setting career highs with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Back to the offense, which got a big help from the ground game. Quarterback Rakeem Cato got his, of course, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-42 passing. But the rushing attack accounted for 275 of the Herd’s 629 total yards.
Kevin Grooms ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Steward Butler had 71 yards and a TD and Remi Watson contributed 56 yards and a score.
Even Essray Taliaferro got in on the act, scoring a touchdown late in the game.
“Those three young running backs can go,” Holliday said. “I thought we played extremely well. I thought our receivers played really well. It was just overall a fun game to watch when the three phases came together and played extremely well. And then to go on the road to get a conference win like that against that team that (took) Central Florida into overtime a week ago was critical.”
Speaking of Central Florida, Marshall (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) will get its last crack at the Knights this weekend. The Herd will host UCF at 8 p.m. Saturday in the last meeting between the rivals.
UCF will move to the Big East next year.
Marshall has not beaten the Knights (5-2, 3-0) since joining C-USA in 2005. The Herd would like to end that streak en route to their goal of securing a spot in the league championship game.
“This (win) builds tons of momentum,” Sparrow said. “Now we have to start a winning streak.”
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