Marshall notebook: Herd proved O'Leary wrong
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — George O’Leary finally got one wrong about Marshall.
It was about time.
After seven consecutive victories over the Thundering Herd, after never losing to Marshall since the pair of football programs joined Conference USA together in 2005 and after one prediction out of left field this week, the veteran UCF coach finally lost to MU.
Darn, that feels good.
It all started innocently enough during O’Leary’s weekly press conference this week when the crusty coach surprisingly voiced the opinion that he thought Southern Miss would win the rest of its games this season.
The prediction had some relevance because O’Leary’s Golden Knights just had defeated the Golden Eagles, 38-31 in double overtime, a few days earlier in Orlando.
Yet, the off-the-wall pick still raised a few eyebrows and a few more hackles around the Herd universe.
It seemed just a little on the unnecessary side.
That’s another reason Marshall’s fans enjoyed the Herd’s 59-24 victory over Southern Miss so much Saturday night at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Besides breaking a two-game losing streak, the Herd actually proved O’Leary wrong.
That hasn’t happened in a while.
Seven years, to be exact.
Marshall hasn’t beaten UCF — home or away — since the schools were members of the Mid-American Conference together for three years during 2002-04. MU never lost to UCF in those days.
But the Herd is 0-7 against the Golden Knights in C-USA.
Sometimes his Golden Knights have pummeled Marshall. Sometimes the Herd has found ways to lose. And sometimes an unfriendly Orlando sky simply has rained on Marshall’s parade.
But any way it is sliced Marshall can’t seem to beat O’Leary.
Until Saturday night, that is.
And maybe, just maybe that could be a precursor. Perhaps, it’s a sneak preview of what could transpire when Marshall hosts UCF at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, in Edwards Stadium.
Who knows? Maybe it could be a trend.
Right or wrong, after playing UCF for 11 consecutive years in two different conferences, the next meeting will be the last between the schools. That’s because the Golden Knights are leaving C-USA to join the Big East after this year.
One more Marshall win as a parting gift? Breaking a seven-game losing streak as a going away present? Proving O’Leary wrong in consecutive weeks?
Talk about a win-win situation.
SURPRISE STARTERS: Despite getting their first practice snaps of the season just earlier this week, Ken Smith and Billy Mitchell were surprise starters against Southern Miss.
Neither had been on the field for a single play all season.
Martin starting at defensive tackle in place of Marques Aiken with Mitchell getting the nod at middle linebacker replacing Jermaine Holmes.
In yet another move, Monterius Lovett started in place of Keith Baxter at cornerback.
Other personnel moves included true freshman Cam Dees getting his first action at center this season, relieving starter Chris Jasperse for two consecutive possessions during the second quarter.
Also, freshman defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel, who had appeared in all six previous games and was credited with six tackles, did not make the trip to Southern Miss.
TURNOVER BUGABOO: Yep, it reared its ugly head again.
When Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato sprinted to his right in the shadow of his own goal post and, then, launched a high pass to slot receiver Andre Snipes-Booker, it ended up in the hands of freshman Southern Miss cornerback Kalan Reed.
Reed easily returned the interception 19 yards for a touchdown with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter.
It was the fourth “pick six” of the season yielded by Cato, who was upset to say the least after the play.
It was the Marshall offense’s 13th turnover in seven games.
But on the other side of the ledger, Marshall’s defense contributed a season-high three takeaways. The Herd came into the game with only three in six games.
BY THE NUMBERS: Senior wide receiver Tay Wilson passed the 2,000-yard plateau in career pass receiving.
Slot receiver Tommy Shuler increased his reception total to 69 in seven games with 11 catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. That is the most for any Herd receiver since Josh Davis caught 81 passes in 2004.