HUNTINGTON — Marshall University could have used Brenden Knox in the second half against Ohio University.

But the Thundering Herd didn't have its star running back.

That meant Marshall could have used Tyler King.

But the Herd didn't have that former standout running back either.

That put Marshall into a very, very tough spot. Without the 6-foot, 220-pound Knox, who didn't come back onto the field for the second half after rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (8.3 yards per attempt) during the first half, the Herd struggled mightily.

Simply put, Marshall lacked star power.

A week ago, it would have been King, a junior running back who led the Herd in rushing during the 2018 season. But Marshall dismissed the lightning bolt of a running back on Monday for unrevealed reasons.

That meant Marshall lacked even more star power.

So, what happened?

Well, the third quarter was like watching a hangover.

Remember Marshall's second half during a 14-7 loss at Boise State eight days ago? The Herd's offense utterly disappeared. Marshall didn't gain a single yard of total offense, so naturally it also didn't have any first downs.

Knox?

He carried only twice in that second half.

King?

He didn't touch the ball.

That was what Marshall's third quarter against Ohio University resembled Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Oh, the Herd's offense didn't completely vanish, a la Boise State, but it might have shown up on the back of some milk cartons.

Without Knox or King, Marshall managed only one first down in the entire third quarter. The Herd also was limited to just 22 yards rushing and only seven yards passing while not scoring a single point.

It looked much too Boise State-esque for anybody's nerves.

That was particularly the case when Ohio star quarterback Nathan Rourke connected with tight end Ryan Luehrman on a seven-yard touchdown pass with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter.

It narrowed Marshall's lead to only 27-24.

Then, it happened.

The 6-1, 210-pound Rourke rolled left with a Bobcat running back available for an option pitch. As it turns out, the running back was mere window dressing.

Rourke read Marshall's defense, turned the corner and, then, turned on something else that nobody really thought the Canadian quarterback possessed.

The jets.

Rourke raced 72 yards untouched down the far sideline for a stunning touchdown that gave Ohio its first lead of the game, 31-27, with 11:14 remaining on the clock.

Marshall?

It was gut-check time. If the Herd didn't muster some second-half offense for the first time against FBS opponents this season, a total collapse could be on the horizon.

But who was going to step up? Who was going to supply the star power with Knox and King missing and gone, respectively? Who, who, who?

Who else?

The X-Factor.

When the Thundering Herd needed someone to step up and make a big play, Xavier "The X-Factor" Gaines reported for duty.

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound tight end/quarterback/H-back/slot receiver/running back/wide receiver already had lined up as a quarterback and rambled 26 yards for Marshall's first touchdown with 12:45 remaining in the first quarter.

So, with the Herd trailing in the fourth quarter, it was Gaines who stepped up again. With 7:45 remaining, the junior caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Green to give Marshall a 33-31 lead and the victory.

The X-Factor was the one factor Ohio couldn't account for or stop.

There's a new star in town.

And he signs his autographs with a big "X."

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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