MU balances passing attack with runs
HUNTINGTON -- Balance returned to Marshall's offense Saturday.
The Thundering Herd, the No. 1 team in passing and total offense in Conference USA, enjoyed another 400-yard day through the air and the running backs racked up 169 yards against Tulsa.
"We put it all together, balance with the run and pass, you can't stop our offense," said redshirt freshman back Kevin Grooms, who led Marshall in rushing with 71 yards and scored once on a 6-yard run.
Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato connected on 31 of 44 passes for 391 yards, giving the Thundering Herd 572 total yards on 90 snaps against the league's top defense. Unfortunately, Tulsa defensive backs Lowell Rose and Demarco Nelson came up with pass breakups on the Herd's final two possessions to stop potential game-tying drives and allow the Golden Hurricane to escape with a 45-38 win.
Marshall's running game came to life two weeks ago in a 54-51 overtime win at Rice. The Herd piled up 334 rushing yards with Steward Butler leading the charge with 166 and Grooms adding 103 and four scores -- three rushing and one on a TD pass from Cato.
Last week, Marshall managed just 95 rushing yards in a 51-41 loss at Purdue. Saturday, the Herd found operating room on the ground or through the air.
"We've got to depend on the run and pass," Grooms said. "We went away from it (at Purdue). The key is to make plays when called. The offensive line loves to block for us. The receivers love to block for us.
"We can't be one dimensional. Cato's proven he can throw the ball. We've shown we can run it. That's scary."
The Herd overcame two big deficits to go ahead 38-37 with 10:59 left in the fourth quarter on Cato's 32-yard TD pass to Antavious Wilson. The Golden Hurricane opened a 17-3 lead early in the second period, but the Herd came back to tie it at halftime on a 6-yard TD run by Grooms and Cato's 11-yard TD strike to Wilson.
Tulsa's Trey Watts returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score with 5:04 left in the third period to give the visitor's a 37-25 lead. The Herd responded with two scores to go back on top, 38-37. The Golden Hurricane countered with a six-play, 66-yard TD drive to go in front to stay, 45-38. Quarterback Cody Green, after a nice play fake, hooked up with a wide-open James Jordan in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard TD.
Marshall (2-4, 1-1 C-USA East) excited the crowd with drives deep into Tulsa territory in the final minutes. Enter Rose and Nelson to silence those fans. Rose knocked a pass away from Aaron Dobson on 4th-and-5 at the Tulsa 16 with 3:22 to go. Nelson deflected a pass to Wilson who was open in the end zone on a 4th-and-7 at the Golden Hurricane 17 with 44 seconds to play.
"I thought with what we have on offense we would score. I trust our quarterback," Grooms said. "I thought Dobson had the first one, their guy made the play. When No. 20 broke up the pass, I just said, 'wow.' "
Marshall has an open date this week. The Herd returns to action Oct. 20 at winless Southern Miss.
"Coach (Doc Holliday) says there's going to be adversity in games," Grooms said. "You have to fight through it. We fought, but not hard enough."
Come Tuesday, the Herd returns to work for that visit to Hattiesburg, Miss.
"We have to move on," Grooms said. "We'll work to get better. We've got the same expectations. There's still a lot to play for out there. We have to keep our heads high. The dream isn't over."