Marshall suffers Knight-mare
HUNTINGTON — It wasn’t the near full moon and it wasn’t the fact that it was just before Halloween.
But, UCF left Marshall’s Thundering Herd feeling like it was having a nightmare Saturday night.
Check that, Knight-mare.
UCF (6-2 overall, 4-0 Confereence USA) dominated Marshall in all facets of the football game to earn a 54-17 win, their eighth-straight victory over the Herd.
The loss was the worst for Marshall (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) in the 21-year history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The 54 points also represented an opponent record at Edwards Stadium.
It was also the Herd’s third-straight loss at home — a skid that has only happened one other time in the history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. That came during the 2007 season when Marshall started 0-7 under former head coach Mark Snyder.
“That’s embarrassing,” Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said. “Point blank, embarrassing.”
Most of the year, it has been Marshall piling up yards on the opposition, but it was the Knights that dominated statistically in this one.
Despite running 36 less plays than the Herd, UCF outgained Marshall 568 to 364 yards while averaging more than nine yards per play.
“They are a good football team but we just didn’t make plays when we had to make them and that was disappointing,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
The key was in the ability to establish a rushing attack.
Marshall finished with just 66 yards on 36 carries while UCF ended the game with 278 yards on 40 carries and four touchdowns.
UCF running back Latavius Murray scored four touchdowns — three rushing and one receiving — while kick returner Quincy McDuffie returned both the kickoffs he fielded for touchdowns of 97 and 98 yards.
McDuffie’s second kick return for a touchdown came on the opening kickoff of the second half, giving the Knights a 34-10 lead while basically ending any hope of a Marshall rally.
Cato was 35 of 62 passing for 298 yards and two touchdowns — a 1-yard scoring completion to Gator Hoskins and a 15-yard scoring toss to Antavious Wilson on a deflected pass.
Blake Bortles, his UCF counterpart, went toe-to-toe with Cafo, completing 14 of 20 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Both Bortles touchdown passes came with Marshall engaged in all-out blitzes — one a 21-yard scoring toss to Murray and the other a 16-yard screen to former QB turned wide receiver Jeff Godfrey.
Missed opportunities plagued the Herd in the first half as UCF ran out to a 27-10 lead.
Marshall intercepted two of Bortles’ passes, but turned neither into points as drops by receivers and, essentially, frustration by Cato mounted. In all, the Herd dropped seven passes in the first half.
“Early on, we had some opportunities to make plays there and didn’t,” Holliday said. “We dropped too many balls. We had several dropped balls early that would’ve converted into first downs.”
While Cato and Marshall’s offense struggled to get in gear early, Blake Bortles had no such worry against the blitz-happy Herd defense.
With UCF leading 7-3, Bortles completed all five of his passes on a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by Murray’s 2-yard run that pushed the advantage to 14-3.
Smelling blood in the water, UCF’s defense sent the house at Cato and sacked him to force a three-and-out. Five plays later, Bortles hooked up with Godfrey for a 16-yard score.
On the play, the Herd got caught in a blitz and Godfrey took the screen and walked in untouched.
Murray later broke a 75-yard touchdown run to cap a stretch in which UCF scored 27 straight first-half points.
That streak came to an end when Wilson caught a 15-yard touchdown pass off a ball batted into the air by UCF defensive back A.J. Bouye to set the halftime score.
Marshall jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 43-yard field goal by Justin Haig, but the momentum quickly turned when McDuffie returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for his first of two return touchdowns in the game.
It marked the second consecutive home game in which Marshall allowed a kick return for a touchdown. The Herd gave up a 95-yard kickoff return to Tulsa’s Trey Watts in a 45-38 loss to the Golden Hurricane.
The big special teams plays for UCF trumped a plus-3 turnover advantage for the Herd. Marshall had zero points off the UCF miscues.
Marshall returns to action Saturday at home against Memphis (1-7, 1-3 C-USA) in a 2 p.m. contest at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.