Chuck Landon: Herd never gave itself a chance to beat UCF
There was something different about this Conference USA game.
Before the opening kickoff, that is.
Until then, there was an air, an energy, an atmosphere that had been missing from “The Joan” for the last 59 C-USA games.
That’s because this Marshall vs. UCF game had championship implications. The winner would be in the driver’s seat for the C-USA East Division championship.
When is the last time that happened?
Well, let me put it this way. It was before Marshall joined C-USA eight seasons ago.
That’s what made this game special for Marshall.
Again, until the opening kickoff.
Once that happened, all Marshall did was prove it’s not championship caliber, it’s not ready to play in big games and that the future isn’t now.
The sad truth of the matter is Marshall is a pretender, not a contender.
The Herd left no doubt about that distinction while getting thoroughly humiliated by UCF, 54-17, Saturday night before 22,563 disgusted and disillusioned fans at Edwards Stadium.
It was an utterly embarrassing way to finish an 11-year series with UCF that includes an eight-game winning streak for the Knights.
And there’s only one reason why it happened.
It’s because UCF’s George O’Leary and his coaching staff exposed the flaws in the Herd’s offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
What else is there?
That’s why the Knights utterly dominated Marshall in every phase of the game while taking a 27-10 halftime lead.
And when the third quarter began?
More of the same.
Quincy McDuffie returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a touchdown. Which shows just exactly how much Marshall’s special teams learned from allowing McDuffie to return a first-quarter kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
The answer is nothing.
Three Marshall defenders took horrible angles on McDuffie during the first touchdown return and at least that many did the same on the second.
What’s worse, that was a trend on all three sides of the ball.
Take the offense, for example.
It never did figure out how to protect quarterback Rakeem Cato from the blitz, as UCF sacked the sophomore four times besides hurrying him so many times even my calculator lost track.
The problem is the run blocking wasn’t any better than the pass blocking. The supposedly rejuvenated running attack was stopped dead in its 40-yard dashes, gaining only 66 yards on 36 carries for a paltry 1.8 yards per carry.
Then, there’s the defense.
UCF waited patiently for Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon to revert to his old habits of blitzing on third down. When it inevitably happened, it was like a coyote getting caught in a trap.
Except the Herd couldn’t chew a hoof off and escape.
One, two, three, four times Marshall blitzed UCF on third down. The result was a 33-yard completion, an 18-yard completion that led to a touchdown, a 20-yard completion that led to a TD and, yes, a 21-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown.
When is Marshall’s defense going to figure out it can’t blitz a good team consistently on third down?
Not soon enough, obviously.
Why, even when Marshall’s receivers dropped seven passes during a rainy first half nobody wearing green thought to tell the receivers to remove their wet gloves.
I mean, there’s a reason why Cato wasn’t wearing a glove on his right hand.
All in all, it was a soggy, sobering night for Marshall.
The Herd’s championship mettle was tested.
And could have passed airport security.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at email@example.com.