HOUSTON, Texas — After seeing Rice on film, Marshall University head football coach Doc Holliday knew his team would be in a dogfight, regardless of the Owls’ record.
On Saturday afternoon, Marshall engineered a late first-half drive that took the fight out of the Owls.
Leading 10-7 and in a battle, the Thundering Herd offense took possession with 6:39 left in the second quarter and did not relinquish the football ball until after Isaiah Green connected with Talik Keaton on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left in the half.
“That was big, especially coming into an environment like this where it’s not as electric and it’s easy to lose focus,” Green said. “It was big for us to get that score so the defense could build off that momentum, coming out after halftime.”
It wasn’t just about the Herd scoring. It was how Marshall got there.
There was a 26-yard run by Brenden Knox on third-and-3, there was a 22-yard pass on a second-and-18 from Green to Armani Levias and there was the third-and-10 dagger to end the drive.
On two separate occasions, Rice brought a blitz up the middle and each time, Marshall running backs Sheldon Evans and Knox picked up the assignment – the latter of which got his block on a double-blitz that gave Green time to find Keaton on the score.
“They sent a lot of blitzes today and they were sending it from different ways and different fronts,” Green said. “We studied real hard on blitz pick-ups and third downs, what they like to do in certain situations. Hats off to our guys. They did a great job — Sheldon, Knox and the O-line.”
The score gave Marshall a 17-7 halftime lead and, essentially, took the wind out of the wings of the Owls.
Marshall never looked back in securing its fourth-straight win.
NEW QB FOR RICE: Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said going into the week that he hadn’t gotten production out of the quarterback position this season with his team starting 0-8.
On Saturday, Bloomgren did something about it.
Rice started true freshman JoVoni Johnson at quarterback, marking his first action with the Owls.
“He had a little edge to him...,” Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said. “Whether in situations where things broke down or with some quarterback designed runs, I thought he was very good at it.”
Johnson started the game connecting on seven of his first eight passes, including his first scoring pass — a 2-yard touchdown to Austin Trammell that gave Rice a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Johnson became Rice’s fourth quarterback to see action in 2019.
LOCAL FLAVOR OF RICE: Upon looking at the roster of Rice, Marshall fans may have noticed a local connection suiting up for the Owls.
Reagan Williams, a 6-3, 220-pound fullback from Jackson, Ohio, is one of several graduate transfers for the Owls.
Williams originally was with head coach Mike Bloomgren at Stanford before joining the Rice program.
PORTER CHANGES NUMBERS…FOR NOW: Marshall defensive end Owen Porter changed numbers from Nos. 43 to 47 on Saturday for the Rice game.
The reason is because Porter is also on the punt coverage team in which punter Robert LeFevre is also No. 43.
Typically, Porter would change to No. 82 prior to punt scenarios, but against Western Kentucky, that jersey switch did not happen and Marshall was flagged for a penalty.
Thus, Saturday’s switch.