Herd runs over UAB
HUNTINGTON — Offensively, there aren’t many things Marshall University’s football team hasn’t done in its history.
However, Saturday provided a program first.
Marshall finished with three running backs with more than 100 yards rushing for the first time in school history while averaging 11.9 yards per carry en route to a 56-14 beatdown of UAB in front of 22,321 spectators at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Thundering Herd, 6-3, reached the six wins required for bowl game eligibility and improved its record to 4-1 in Conference USA while avenging last season’s loss at the hands of the Blazers (2-7, 1-4).
Marshall’s running game piled up 381 yards, giving the Herd back-to-back 300-yard rushing performances.
“The offensive line did a great job blocking and the three running backs of Essray Taliaferro, Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler did a tremendous job with the ball in their hands,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
Butler led the offensive output on the ground with 139 yards on only seven carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run.
Butler said the milestone event was the result of preparation.
“I wasn’t really surprised because we’ve been working very hard and our running backs coach (Thomas Brown) coaches us very hard,” Butler said. “The way we work, we should go out there and be able to do that every other week. That’s how we feel.”
Taliaferro and Grooms were just as efficient. Taliaferro rushed 12 time for 118 yards and two touchdowns to hit the 100-yard mark for the third consecutive game while Grooms ended the day with 108 yards on eight carries for his second consecutive 100-yard performance.
The rushing game certainly aided the passing game for quarterback Rakeem Cato, who saw no pressure from the Blazers. Cato was not sacked in the contest and finished 14 of 20 passing for 276 yards with four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing).
Cato said he was never knocked down or even touched by the defense, not even on his 6-yard touchdown run.
“It feels great not to get hit,” Cato said. “Any quarterback feels that way — not to get hit, not to get touched and to have a smooth game.”
The day’s biggest play came right before the half as Marshall’s defense and offense combined to turn a relatively close game into a blowout.
UAB trailed 28-14 and was driving inside the Herd red zone when running back Jordan Howard was hit by Taj Letman, which caused a fumble recovered by Gary Thompson. Instead of sitting on the football with 1:36 left, Marshall went to the air with Cato hitting Gator Hoskins on a 50-yard bomb to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Grooms that put the Herd up by three scores.
The Herd then took possession to open the second half and slammed the door shut with a 6-play, 79-yard drive, capped by Taliaferro’s 16-yard touchdown run — his second of the day.
It knocked UAB out of its gameplan of salting the game away on the ground and forced the Blazers into more of a hurry-up mode.
“That was critical,” Holliday said. “That is a good football team rushing the ball. They had almost 300 yards rushing last week against Middle Tennessee. They were moving the ball today as well. We came back in the second half like we did a week ago and went right down the field to score, which was important.”
Once again, Marshall’s offense was jump started by the defense forcing a fumble on the opening series of the game.
For the second straight week, the Herd forced a fumble on the third play of the game when Neville Hewitt sacked quarterback Jonathan Perry and defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow jumped on the football. Two plays later, Taliaferro scored to make it 7-0 early.
UAB tied it 7-7 on Darrin Reaves’ 2-yard score on fourth-and-goal, but the Herd followed with a 39-yard bomb from Cato to Eric Frohnapfel and a 71-yard scoring run by Grooms to end the first quarter with a 21-7 advantage.
Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler, who celebrated his 21st birthday Friday, finished with 100 yards receiving on six catches with a 6-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
It was all part of a 657-yard performance that represented the sixth most yards in Herd history and the second-consecutive week over 630 yards.
Marshall now hits the road on a short week to take on Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in H.A. Chapman Stadium. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.