By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Not even a defensive performance that evoked nightmarish images of 2012 could overshadow one thing that absolutely irks Marshall coach Doc Holliday.
A blocked punt for a touchdown was perhaps the biggest play in Middle Tennessee’s 51-49 win over Marshall last Thursday. Chris Brown blocked Tyler Williams’ kick with his right hand, then picked up the ball at the 3 and ran it in for a 14-7 Blue Raider lead.
It was the second time this season the Thundering Herd has lost a game in which the opponent scored on a blocked punt. The first was at Virginia Tech, when the Hokies did it on the first series of a game they eventually won 29-21 in triple overtime.
Take away those two plays and Marshall wins both times.
“We’ve got to get that punt team together,” Holliday said. “They’ve got to be better.”
Holliday was generally content with everything else, even a defense that could not stop the run for the first time this season. MTSU ran for 308 yards and converted on a ridiculous 4 of 5 fourth down plays.
Marshall had been allowing just 121.2 rushing yards per game, which was third in Conference USA. That average is now up to 145.0, fourth-best in the league.
“We didn’t stop the run,” Holliday said. “We went in there to try and stop the run and we couldn’t do that. They were able to run and they made a couple of big plays late in the passing game.”
The fact that the Herd was even in the game under those circumstances was positive enough for Holliday. Marshall trailed 45-35 early in the fourth quarter but battled back to take a 49-45 lead on Essray Taliaferro’s 2-yard run with 2:29 to play.
The Raiders won in dramatic fashion, with quarterback Logan Kilgore hitting Tavarres Jefferson on a 9-yard touchdown as time expired.
“We battled back and tried to find a way to win, and give them credit; they found a way to win. We didn’t,” Holliday said. “The defense made some plays. They had an opportunity to make a couple more there at the end and just couldn’t find a way to get it done.”
The Herd (4-3, 2-1) could have the perfect elixir to erase that taste from its collective mouth. The team will return home Saturday to take on winless Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) at noon. The game will be aired on CBS Sports Network.
The Golden Eagles have lost 19 consecutive games, going winless last season after winning the league title and a bowl game in 2011.
They made a big move last week by starting true freshman Nick Mullens against North Texas. Mullens completed 12 of 31 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in a 55-14 loss.
“As a team we certainly did not get the job done,” Mullens said. “Personally, I have to be a better leader and go out there and make better decisions and better throws. It is a lot to build on. Every rep counts so I have to continue to get better.”
“I think he is going to be a really good football player,” first-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “Did he play flawless? No, but we knew that. That is what you get with young players.”
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