Herd slams Southern Miss
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — When people came to “The Rock” on Saturday, Marshall University decided it wanted to roll.
Marshall (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) used a complete effort on both sides of the ball to silence a Homecoming crowd of 24,903 fans at M.M. Roberts Stadium, also known as “The Rock,” in a 59-24 victory over Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) in conference action Saturday night.
“It was a great team win,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “I thought that was the first time this year we’ve had a total team effort.”
Rakeem Cato finished the contest 31 of 42 passing for 340 yards and three touchdowns while running back Kevin Grooms rushed for 119 yards and two scores.
Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler caught 11 passes for 111 yards. Shuler has been a pass-catching machine for the Thundering Herd this season, but he had not found the end zone since Sept. 1 in an opening-game loss at West Virginia.
Shuler caught a pair of touchdowns Saturday, including a 25-yarder early when he broke out a dance to celebrate the occasion.
“I was going to save it for a home game, but I felt like it was a big touchdown so I just did it,” Shuler said. “We were feeling good out there.”
While the offense put up its normally consistent numbers, the real story was the defense keeping Southern Miss offense in check throughout as Marshall built a 28-point lead at the end of three quarters.
Marshall’s defense came into the contest with just five takeaways on the season and left with three more while also sacking Southern Miss quarterback Anthony Alford three times.
Alford, a dual threat freshman with his arm and legs, had just 77 yards of total offense. He was 9 of 21 passing for 65 yards while rushing 10 times for only 12 yards.
“We were worried about him getting outside,” said Marshall defensive tackle Brandon
Sparrow, who had three tackles for loss and two sacks. “We watched film — I don’t even know how many hours we watched film — we were worried about keeping him inside and that just gave me and (Marques) Aiken opportunities to make plays on the inside.”
After taking a 14-point lead into the locker room at halftime, Marshall came out and slammed the door in the final two quarters.
The Herd forced the Golden Eagles into a pair of three-and-outs to open the third quarter and scored touchdowns following each to break the game open.
Cato hit Shuler on a 1-yard scoring pass to push the lead to 21 before Grooms added an 11-yard touchdown run to seal the game.
The defense pitched a second-half shutout until Arsenio Favor scored on a 12-yard run for Southern Miss with 2:03 left.
Marshall took a 31-17 lead at halftime after a first half that featured 374 yards of offense and several long plays.
The Herd had 15 plays of 10 yards or more en route in the opening half, highlighted by a spectacular run by Grooms.
After a Cato interception was returned 19 yards for a score by Southern Miss’ cornerback Kalan Reed, Grooms seized momentum back for the Herd when he raced around the left side and sprinted past the defense for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Herd up 24-10.
“Nobody really knew he was going to break that long run,” Cato said. “He made something out of nothing and got in the end zone. Everybody needed that.”
Desmond Johnson answered for Southern Miss with a 21-yard score, but Cato found Shuler on a 25-yard TD pass.
Marshall had a chance to shut the game down early on a pair of occasions, but allowed the Golden Eagles to get back in the contest.
After Remi Watson’s 3-yard touchdown gave the Herd a 10-3 lead, Marshall got a break when an unexpected snap hit the Southern Miss quarterback in the facemask and bounced into the arms of Herd linebacker Jermaine Holmes.
Three plays later, Cato hit Antavious Wilson with a 14-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to two scores. It was a great call by the Herd coaching staff as Southern Miss was caught in a jailbreak blitz and Cato hit Wilson on a slip screen. Wilson made one man miss and trotted into the end zone unscathed.
Wilson moved into 12th all-time in Marshall career receiving yards with 2,000 exactly. He made six catches for 96 yards – all in the first half.
Marshall returns to Huntington for its next two contests. The Herd welcomes UCF to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for an 8 p.m., Saturday, game followed by a Nov. 3 matchup with Memphis.