By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Two weeks to prepare for an offense it hadn’t seen before was more than enough for Marshall’s defense.
The Thundering Herd never gave UTSA a chance to get going, holding the Roadrunners to a season-low 254 total yards in a 34-10 homecoming win Saturday before an announced crowd of 28,837.
UTSA’s perimeter-themed offense had not been stopped before being completely befuddled by the Herd defense. Marshall’s defensive line made it a long day for Roadrunners quarterback Eric Soza, batting and tipping several of the senior’s passes.
“To be honest with you, I had major concerns about that football team going in,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “I know you guys think I don’t know what I’m talking about at times ... They were averaging almost 500 yards a game against good (teams). We tried to take away their perimeter runs and were able to do that.”
Marshall (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) was coming off a bye week and had lost two in a row. The week off gave the Herd extra time to study the Roadrunners.
“The one positive about our open week was that we were preparing for a different kind of team,” Holliday said. “For us to have two weeks to prepare for the perimeter runs and the way they threw the ball was great for us.”
Tipped passes led to interceptions by Evan McKelvey and RaShawde Myers on the Roadrunners’ first two series, and the Herd turned them into 10 points.
Justin Haig kicked a 33-yard field goal at the 10:41 mark, and Cato hooked up with tight end Devon Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown.
“That was a great job with the guys up front,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “I’ve always believed with six-foot quarterbacks that you ought to get a lot of (deflections). But the quarterback’s pretty good, sliding in windows, and we didn’t knock down many balls at (Ohio, against Tyler Tettleton).
“I was pleased we did that (Saturday). It was helpful. It’s usually helpful, because the ball gets tipped, you get picks, there are incomplete passes and you get off the field again.”
Marshall led 24-0 with 5:05 left in the first half after touchdown runs of 4 yards by Essray Taliaferro and 1 yard by Steward Butler.
With the defense in control, the Herd chose to slow its usual pace in the second half. Haig’s 31-yarder on the second play of the fourth quarter made it 27-3, and a 4-yard TD pass from Cato to Demetrius Evans with 3:46 to play capped a scoring drive of 5:58 — the Herd’s longest of the season.
Cato completed 22 of 32 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked five times by a defense that was able to get heat throughout much of the unseasonably warm afternoon.
“We had to slow it down a little bit in the second half,” Holliday said. “We ran some clock. We were able to run the ball and get some first downs.”
The Roadrunners (2-4, 1-1) avoided the shutout thanks to a couple of Marshall gifts.
Cato was sacked from the blind side on third-and-5 from his 16 by Robert Singletary. The Herd quarterback fumbled and the ball was recovered by Codie Brooks at the 11.
UTSA faced a third-and-13 at the 14 when Corey Tindal was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone, setting up first-and-goal at the 7.
Still, the Herd defense held and the Roadrunners had to settle for Sean Ianno’s 24-yard field goal with 31 seconds left before halftime.
Soza’s 1-yard run was the Roadrunners’ only touchdown, making it 27-10 with 9:44 to play.
Soza was 10-of-26 for a season-low 130 yards and threw three interceptions. The picks by McKelvey and Myers were the first of their careers. Redshirt freshman A.J. Leggett had his second interception of the season in the end zone to end a UTSA drive in the third quarter.
“A lot of things went wrong,” UTSA coach Larry Coker said. “We didn’t play our best, for one, and the third down was a disaster for us. We had so many third downs lost or misconverted. ... Early in the game, the tips fell their way, which was huge for Marshall. They’ve got a good football team. Let’s give them credit.”
Marshall will get back on the road next Saturday, playing at another C-USA newcomer, Florida Atlantic, in Boca Raton, Fla. Kickoff will be 5 p.m. and the game will be aired by Fox College Sports.
— E-mail: email@example.com