AKRON, OHIO – Marshall University athletic teams are called ‘The Thundering Herd’ and for the first four weeks of this 2014 College Football season, MU has lived up to that moniker. Saturday, the Herd rumbled once again while dominating the Akron Zips, 48-14, at InfoCision Stadium.
Marshall (4-0) is off to its best start since 1999. The Herd have won nine of their last 10 games, including three against Mid-American Conference opposition, dating back to last season.
“We challenged out kids.” MU head coach Doc Holliday said after the game. “We challenged them on being a physical and competitive football team as they were a week ago (a 41-14 home win over Ohio), and I thought we did that today."
Akron (1-2) has lost two straight after opening the campaign with a 41-0 shutout of Howard. In addition, UA saw its four-game home winning streak come to a crashing end.
As they did in their first three games, the visitors from Conference USA came out fast and furious, opening a 17-0 first quarter advantage. Marshall tallied a touchdown on its first possession as senior quarterback Rakeem Cato ended a nine-play 80-yard drive with an 11-yard quarterback draw for the score.
On the next play after the touchdown, Marshall's defense forced a fumble by sophomore RB Hakeem Lawrence. MU quickly that into a 24-yard Justin Haig Field goal.
The margin became 17-0 after Marshall forced a three-and-out to take possession on its own 40. The visitors took just three plays to get into the end zone. This one came as Cato used his stromg right arm to hit redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis on a fly pattern from 24 yards out.
Cato finished the day completing 17-of-31 passes for 210 yards with an interception and the score to Jean-Louis.
On the Zips next possession, junior quarterback Kyle Pohl’s pass was deflected and intercepted by sophomore free safety Tyquan Lang.
The score moved to 24-0 as junior RB Devon Johnson broke a tackle and was covered 22-yards for a second quarter touchdown.
The UA offense had not turned the ball over in the first two games and was a MAC-best plus-3 in turnover margin. On this day, Akron turned the ball over three times, which led to 17 Thundering Herd points.
The Zips finally dented the scoreboard on the next possession after the Johnson touchdown as Pohl moved the offense from its own 25 to the Marshall five before the drive stalled. Sophomore PK Robert Stein connected on a 24-yard field goal to make the score 24-3.
Stein, who gave UA its lone points in a 21-3 loss at Penn State the previous week, has hit six consecutive field goals and eight of his last nine dating back to last season.
On the next possession, the Zips defense came up with its lone turnover of the game when junior QB Kris Givens intercepted a Cato pass at the MU 36. On the next play, Pohl went deep and found junior WR Zach D’Orazio, who made an outstanding sliding catch at the four-yard line.
The offense, however, just could not put the ball in the end zone as on fourth down from the four, Pohl was intercepted in the end zone by sophomore free safety A.J. Leggett.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Zips offense has been its inability to score touchdowns, inside the the red zone. They are 6-of-12 with four TDs so far this season in that statistic.
When asked about red zone issue, Bowden said “I am always concerned when we don’t score points. We have to go back and see what we can do better and be more productive.”
Cato and the offense added to the first half onslaught when he handed the ball to junior RB Remi Watson, who broke through and line and went 80-yards for the touchdown to make the score 31-3 at halftime.
In the first three games, MU rode Cato’s arm and legs. On this day it was the ground game that did the damage amassing 284 yards with both Watson (9 carries for 124 yards) and Johnson (18 for 103) both eclipsing the century mark and 526 total yards for the game.
“We did not execute today.” junior NG Cody Grice said. “That did not look like our defense.”
The Zips defense did not have one of its leaders in LB Justin March, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Still Marshall had the its way with the UA defense for the full 60 minutes.
In the third quarter, Cato added a second rushing touchdown with a 13-yard scamper on the Herd’s first possession. Haig then connected on a 33-yard field goal to make the score 41-3 going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, Pohl was pulled in favor of redshirt freshman Tommy Woodson, who engineered two scoring drives while going 8-of-15 for 100 yards.
The first was a nine-play 77-yard trip which culminated with redshirt freshman running back Manny Morgan scoring on an 11-yard run. The other was an 80-yard, eight play journey as Woodson found Mykael Traylor-Bennett on a fade route from 24 yards away.
Sandwiched in between the two Zips tallies was Marshall’s reserve RB Brandon Byrd reaching the end zone with a 19-yard run.
The victory ended MU’s non-conference schedule and the Herd will start C-USA play on October 4th against new member Old Dominion.
UA looks to regroup next Saturday as it travels to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers, who are 3-1 after losing at home to Iowa 24-20.