Chuck Landon: Rice staff had plan to defeat Marshall
HOUSTON -- Marshall got out-smarted.
That wouldn't have been any surprise if MU had faced off against Rice in the GE College Bowl or Jeopardy.
But, on the football field?
Yet, that's precisely what happened during Rice's intellectual 41-24 victory over Marshall in the Conference USA championship game Saturday before an announced crowd of 20,247 that appeared to need the comma moved one spot to the left.
It didn't take a high IQ to deduce the crowd was much closer to 2,000 than 20,000. Nor did it take a great intellect to realize the Herd got out-smarted in this defeat.
Imagine Dana Holgorsen coaching against Albert Einstein.
It was nearly that lopsided.
Remember how completely Marshall's Doc Holliday and his staff out-coached East Carolina on Nov. 29? Well, the situation got reversed against the Owls.
Rice's David Bailiff and his staff were at least one or two plays ahead of Marshall the entire game.
It showed on Rice's first possession when backup running back Luke Turner tossed a 35-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option to a wideout that was 10 yards behind Marshall's secondary.
It shouldn't have been.
Turner already was 1-for-2 passing this season, including a 57-yard touchdown pass against Houston. That was his third career TD pass and Turner added a fourth in the third quarter on a jump pass, a la Tim Tebow.
"We saw their 'Wildcat' and had a package for that," said Holliday, during a post-game press conference. "It wasn't something that we hadn't seen."
Then, why did Marshall's defenders act so surprised?
Next, there were Rice's sophisticated pass coverages. Obviously, Marshall's Rakeem Cato was one very confused quarterback.
"The routes we ran," said Cato, "weren't open against their coverages."
Then, there was the matchup of Marshall's 5-foot-9 Corey Tindal on Rice's 6-5, 210-pound Jordan Taylor. Besides burning Marshall's over-matched and under-sized nickelback for a 75-yard touchdown reception, Rice's slot receiver posted a game-high six catches for 131 yards.
That's because Marshall never adjusted that matchup.
How about the Herd's "Radar" defense? Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue was so ready for that gimmick, he shredded it on a 22-yard scramble to convert a third-and-seven situation.
And on and on it went.
Rice passed when Marshall expected a run and vice-versa for the entire game. That's why the Owls' offense averaged a whopping 7.4 yards per play.
"We thought they would come out running," said defensive tackle James Rouse. "But they went to the pass. It was surprising."
Marshall was surprised across the board Saturday.
For some reason, nationally ranked punt returner Devon Smith returned only one of Rice's six punts. Instead, Marshall allowed the last three punts of the first half to roll dead at its own eight, seven and eight yard lines.
And what about Marshall not going for two-point conversions on its last two touchdowns despite trailing by 16 points on both occasions? Or not using an onside kick when a penalty allowed MU to kickoff from the 50-yard line?
Both decisions were mind-boggling.
Want to know how the Herd managed to play its way out of a festive Liberty Bowl appearance and into a frigid Military Bowl bid?
That's the reason.
Marshall got out-smarted.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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