Herd pulls away
HUNTINGTON — On Saturday night, Marshall University’s offense proved it is still in the form it left off from 2012.
The Thundering Herd also proved there is now a defense to go with that offense.
Marshall’s defense matched the efficiency of its offense, limiting Miami (Ohio) to 55 total yards in the second half while the offense exploded for 374 of its 591 yards after the break.
The effort was enough to turn a 14-14 halftime tie into a 52-14 Marshall victory in front of 27,148 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“It was great to see the defense come out and play the way they did, and of course, offensively, we got that thing rolling in the second half,” Marshall football head coach Doc Holliday said. “That was a good sign.”
Coming into the season, the biggest question mark surrounded the Marshall defense, which finished next-to-last nationally in scoring defense in 2012.
Those questions were emphatically answered with a 30-minute surge in the second half that saw Marshall’s defense actually outscore the RedHawks when Raheem Waiters returned an interception 27 yards to cap the scoring.
“That’s a great statement and it’s truly a blessing to be a part of it,” said linebacker Neville Hewitt, who tied for the team-lead in tackles with eight. “After a while, you could tell that they didn’t want anymore and we just kept giving it to them.”
Marshall outscored Miami 38-0 in the second half behind a balanced offense that finished with 300 yards rushing while quarterback Rakeem Cato ended the day 22 of 34 passing for 253 yards and five touchdowns.
Cato’s best spurt came in the third quarter where he completed three touchdown passes to turn the halftime tie into a 35-14 advantage heading to the fourth quarter.
Two of those touchdown passes went to tight end Gator Hoskins — the first a 20-yard pass to give Marshall the lead for good and the second a 14-yard score after avoiding pressure by scrambling to his right.
Cato also added a 16-yard scoring strike to Craig Wilkins and possibly his best touchdown toss of the day — a 54-yard bomb to speedster Devon Smith after Cato caught the RedHawks off-side and threw the ball deep.
The junior also showed his advancement in the ability to run the football, finishing with a career-high 59 yards rushing.
Whether it was Cato or the stable of running backs, the offensive line punished the RedHawks’ defensive front to the tune of 304 yards on the ground.
Leading the way was Steward Butler, who had 107 yards on 17 carries — his second career 100-yard game. Essray Taliaferro was not far behind with 89 yards on 19 carries.
The second half was quite the contrast to the first 30 minutes as the teams went to the locker room tied following a half when the Herd established its rushing attack.
Cato said it was just a matter of execution on the Herd’s part.
“We didn’t do any changes,” Cato said. “We just stuck to the game plan and came out in the second half and performed.”
Marshall ran the ball on 16 of 17 plays at one point of the first half with both drives ending in touchdowns.
Taliaferro’s 1-yard plunge knotted the game, 7-7. Cato found Tommy Shuler for a 4-yard touchdown to give the Herd a 14-7 lead with 3:44 left in the first half. Shuler finished with nine catches for 67 yards.
The Herd’s run defense was much improved, holding the RedHawks to just 34 yards on the ground in the first half, but a pair of big pass plays set up both Miami scores.
After Marshall had taken the lead, the RedHawks immediately struck back, using a 47-yard completion from Austin Boucher to Rokeem Williams that set up Spencer Treadwell’s 2-yard touchdown run to knot the score.
It was similar to the first scoring drive for Miami when Dawan Scott went over the top of Marshall’s Monterius Lovett to haul in a 45-yard pass inside the Herd 10-yard line. Three plays later, Boucher hit tight end Steve Marck for an 8-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone for the day’s first score.
Marck complimented Marshall on the turnaround in the second half.
“You have to credit Marshall for making adjustments at halftime,” Marck said. “They came out, played tough and threw some stuff our way that we weren’t seeing in the first half.”
Boucher, who completed his first eight passes, ended the contest 10 of 22 for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Marshall returns to action Saturday at 6:30 p.m. when Gardner-Webb comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Gardner-Webb won at home Saturday against Furman, 28-21.
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