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Chuck Landon: Beating by contender shows MU a pretender

Nov. 13, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

TULSA, Okla. -- The results are in.

Marshall is indeed a pretender.

I posed the premise early this week that the Herd needed to show whether it is a contender or pretender in Conference USA with its performance against Tulsa.

Marshall did just that here Saturday.

The Herd proved unequivocally it is a pretender while getting thoroughly embarrassed by Tulsa, 59-17, at Chapman Stadium before only 17,672 fans -- the smallest crowd of the season.

Tulsa's fans weren't the only ones who didn't show up.

Neither did Marshall.

That was obvious from the very beginning.

On Marshall's first two possessions, the Herd gained four yards on six plays during a pair of three-and-outs, as Tulsa's bullying defense did everything but kick sand in the face of MU's offense.

Meanwhile, Tulsa rolled for two touchdowns on its first two possessions as the Golden Hurricane completely out-coached, out-classed and out-played the woefully out-of-position Marshall defense. Tulsa filleted the Herd for 105 yards on only eight plays (13.1 yards per play) during the pair of touchdown drives.

For all intents, the game was over with 10:18 remaining in the first quarter. The difference in the level of competition was that glaring.

And this was supposed to be Marshall's biggest game of the season?

The players said so.

Their performances said otherwise.

Just imagine if the Herd would have had three weeks to prepare for Tulsa. Thank goodness, it was only two. As it was, it was about 13 days too many judging by the outcome.

Why, even when Marshall's defense did get an early stop, reserve linebacker Kellen Harris was guilty of encroachment and the penalty gave Tulsa's punt team a first down.

It was that kind of day for Marshall.

A day when reality set in.

Marshall has played two C-USA West Division contenders in its last three games and been exposed as distinct pretenders by both Houston and Tulsa.

Houston led, 35-14, at halftime during an eventual 63-28 victory. Tulsa was even more impressive on both offense and defense while rolling to a ridiculously easy 42-3 halftime margin.

Together, Tulsa and Houston amassed a mind-bending 1,303 yards of total offense -- almost three-quarters of a mile. Houston hung 621 yards on the Herd and, then, Tulsa overwhelmed MU for 682 yards -- the most since Marshall began playing NCAA Division I-A football.

And Marshall is supposed to be hanging its hat on defense? Really?

Two Tulsa running backs eclipsed the 100-yard plateau, as Ja'Terian Douglas gained 194 yards on only 10 carries while Trey Watts added 144 yards on 16 attempts. A third Tulsa back, Alex Singleton, rushed for three touchdowns.

Passing-wise, quarterback G.J. Kinne threw for 302 yards and four TDs while tossing only seven incompletions. Wideout Bryan Burnham added 10 catches for 146 yards to give Tulsa four offensive players in triple-figures.

Four in triple-figures!

Contenders produce those sorts of statistics. Pretenders allow them.

Sadly, that is the case for Marshall.

"We had a ton of issues on defense," said MU head coach Doc Holliday. "But we have to play better in all three phases."

Let's add a fourth phase -- toughness. Tulsa was markedly tougher, both physically and mentally, than Marshall.

"We had a little adversity and didn't overcome it," said Holliday. "That concerns me."

It shouldn't be happening in the 10th game of the season, but it did.

That's what happens to pretenders.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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