HUNTINGTON — All week long, Marshall’s coaching staff preached about the physicality of Rice on both sides of the football.
In Saturday’s win, however, it was the Herd’s physicality that proved to be the difference.
Marshall was the stronger team at the point of attack, matching the looks and the presence of the Owls en route to its 20-7 win at Rice Stadium in Houston.
Following the contest, Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren was complimentary of the Herd for their efforts against his club.
“We played a very physical Marshall team,” Bloomgren said. “They are very well-coached by Doc Holliday. It’s the first time in a conference game this year that I felt we got manhandled around a little bit, especially in the first half.”
Marshall’s first-half efforts included taking what the Rice defense was giving it and using the combined efforts of quarterback Isaiah Green and center Levi Brown to get the team in the right protection and play-call.
“With Levi having as much experience as he does, he’s kind of been the one teaching me a lot of stuff that I’ve never seen before,” Green said. “We’ve built a good relationship where we’re able to communicate on a high level and an efficient level.”
Green’s efficiency was at its peak on Saturday as he finished 12 of 13 passing in the first half for 229 yards and a touchdown, which came to Talik Keaton late in the first half to put the finishing touches on a 13-play, 95-yard drive that turned the game in the favor of the Herd for good.
That 19-yard touchdown pass to Keaton displayed the communication that Green and Brown have worked on, as well as the efficiency of all parts of the offense.
On the third-and-10 play, Rice showed blitz and brought two linebackers straight through the middle at Brown. However, the pre-snap read by Brown and Green got the Herd situated well.
As Brown snapped the ball, he engaged one linebacker while running back Brenden Knox picked up the other linebacker at the point of attack, giving Keaton plenty of time to finish his route and allowing Green time to
“They went man and tried to disguise it as a Cover 2 shell,” Green said. “I looked off the safety, Knox picked up the middle linebacker on the blitz. I looked to my left and the cornerback shot down…so I knew I had the corner. I just put it in the spot where I felt he could get it and he went and got it.”
While the offensive output was not as strong in the second half, the Herd executed its gameplan, which was geared more toward eliminating mistakes than producing points.
Marshall only gained 96 yards in the second half on its 32 plays, but the offense did not turn the ball over for the third time in four games, opting to milk clock and force Rice into long-field situations with its struggling offense instead of playing risky and chancing giving up a short field in a two-score game.
With the way the defense was playing, Holliday said his team executed beautifully on both sides.
“Offensively, we had zero turnovers again,” Holliday said. “Any time that we can not turn the ball over, we have a chance to win the way our defense is playing.”
The defense that Holliday spoke of was strong throughout, allowing Rice just 231 yards of total offense on 57 plays while also getting Rice into tough third-down situations. The Owls finished just 3 of 12 on third-down conversions and did not convert any of three fourth-down scenarios, either.
The result was a performance in which Marshall beat Rice at its own game.