Big game, big disappointment
HUNTINGTON -- Following Marshall's 37-point loss to UCF on Saturday, those affiliated with the Thundering Herd were looking for anything to make them forget about the contest they had just watched.
A conversation about the television show "The Walking Dead" came up, but one of those in attendance hadn't seen the week's episode yet.
"Don't ruin it for me," the unidentified man said. "I haven't seen it yet. My cable was messed up, so now I have to wait until next week to see it."
In all reality, the man had just seen a real-life episode of the show -- that coming in the form of the Herd's 54-17 loss to UCF.
In the biggest opportunity game against a conference opponent since Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005, the Herd put on arguably its worst all-around performance of the season and suffered the worst defeat ever in the 21-year history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium -- all while surrendering the most points ever for an opponent on Marshall's home turf.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato called the performance "embarrassing" and that's likely the best word to sum it up.
On the offensive end, Cato was sacked four times and the rushing attack gained just 66 yards on 36 carries. The Herd also had seven dropped passes -- all in the first half while the game was still within reach.
Defensively, Marshall was completely gashed to the tune of 9.16 yards per play as UCF racked up 568 total yards on 62 plays.
Special teams, which have been decently solid all-around this season, gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns and the punt coverage unit had opportunities to down a pair of bombs by punter Tyler Williams, but both 60-plus yard kicks bounded into the end zone with missiles on each side within vicinity.
This loss wasn't just about the play on the field, though.
It came down to a simple concept.
In a big game, UCF was ready.
Marshall was not.
This was the game that players had talked about with confidence after last week's 59-24 victory over Southern Miss.
There was plenty of reason for Herd players to to be primed for the contest -- control of Conference USA's East division was at stake and the game was against a rival the Herd had not defeated since 2004.
Yet, with all that on the line, the Herd failed to show up.
It was a painful admission for Cato, who was visibly dejected following the game.
"We were not focused," Cato said. "We were not mentally prepared for what they came with and you saw that. Everyone dropped their head and we lost a ballgame."
There was no energy and there was no execution.
The lack of energy was a direct result of the lack of execution on Saturday. Things that may seem routine -- catching passes, making tackles -- were not performed.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday calls it competitive excellence.
Unfortunately for Herd fans, the game turned out to not be competitive and there was no phase in which the word excellence could be used.
That is, unless you were on the UCF sideline.
The Knights had the energy.
They had the emotion.
UCF executed to perfection.
And that leads them to the fourth "E" -- a stranglehold on the East division title.