Confidence high going into UCF game
HUNTINGTON -- It was just four days ago that Marshall University's football team was searching for answers.
The team had not won in nearly a month, adversity had hit before a bye week with back-to-back losses and turnovers, and frustration was mounting for the Thundering Herd.
Oh, what a difference a college football Saturday can make.
Marshall (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) found many of the answers it was looking for in a resounding 59-24 road victory Saturday night at Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3).
"Overall, it was a fun game to watch," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "All three phases finally came together and played extremely well."
Holliday and his staff could not have asked for a better trip to Hattiesburg, Miss., and it goes well past getting a road win in Conference USA.
In the win, the players found the connection they had longed for over the last two losses while the coaches now have a blueprint for what exactly the team can accomplish if they execute. Especially for the younger players, there was a gleam in their eyes as they saw for the first time all season exactly what the team can do when it executes its game plan in all three phases.
"With a team effort, we can't be beat," Marshall running back Kevin Grooms said. "Just like Doc says, put special teams, offense and defense together and we're unbeatable. We proved it (Saturday)."
Those are pretty strong words from the freshman, but his quarterback backed him up without hesitation after being asked who could top the Herd in an effort like Saturday's.
"Nobody," Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "No one in our next couple of games can beat us if we play like this."
Grooms provided a major spark on Saturday, rushing for a career-high 119 yards and two scores. His 64-yard touchdown run in the second quarter seized momentum after Southern Miss had cut its deficit to seven points.
It was an electric run that epitomized the night for Marshall. He bounced outside and appeared to be headed for a short gain as a defender approached on the angle, but Grooms turned on the jets and took it to the house to silence the crowd of 24,903 for Homecoming.
Just like with Grooms' run, each time the Herd needed a play, someone answered the call -- a great sign for an extremely young team.
It wasn't just limited to the offensive side.
Whether it was getting to the quarterback for sacks, breaking up passes, forcing fumbles or simply getting the job done and making tackles, Marshall's defense -- a huge question mark all season -- answered the bell loudly on Saturday.
The defense had been much-maligned in recent weeks for its inconsistent play this year, so the players were happy to be speaking on much different terms following the game.
"We really took it to heart," Marshall defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow said. "I had to stop reading the newspaper for a couple weeks. We just took it to heart and went after it -- showed everyone we're a good defense."
Holliday expects the defensive play from Saturday to catapult the Herd into this week's titanic East Division matchup with UCF (5-2, 3-0 C-USA) at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Knights are favored to win the division.
"The confidence that defense will have coming out of that game is going to help them," Holliday said. "They've got to feel pretty good about themselves right now -- the way they tackled, the way they swarmed to the ball and the way they played.
"I think there's no doubt that there will be a confidence level that we haven't seen during the past four or five weeks going into that game."