OXFORD, OH – The Chuck Martin era at Miami may have begun with a loss, but the new coach’s RedHawks served notice Saturday they are a different kind of opponent this season.
Highly touted Marshall burst out to an early 28-3 halftime lead before Miami fought back in the second half as the Thundering Herd eventually posted a 42-27 victory.
The RedHawks, who failed to win a game in 2013, rallied behind senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix to twice pull within eight points in the second half. It was a 35-27 game before Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato scored on a two-yard run with 2:01 left to put the game away.
Hendrix, meanwhile, eventually completed 21 of 49 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 20 times for 79 yards, but lost 33 yards on sacks. “He’s got a chance to get better and make some plays for us, Martin said.
Both Hendrix and Cato threw one interception and they were sacked four times apiece.
Cato was particularly effective thowing over the middle and under coverage in the early going. The first Thundering Herd scoring drive took just three plays and 46 seconds to cover 54 yards. Frohnapfel pulled in an 11 yard pass for the score.
Tommy Schuler’s three-yard reception finished a seven-play drive and Frohnapfel added another TD reception with 14:11 left in the second quarter to make it a 21-0 Marshall advantage.
“It was a lot of tentative, standing around. (We were) in our zone but with no sense of urgency,” Martin said. “If you are out of position, Cato is going to make you pay every time.
Miami began to move the ball better in the second quarter and finally got on the scoreboard with a 22-yard field goal by Kaleb Patterson midway through the period. After Devon Johnson tallied on a two-yard run with 3:10 remaining, Hendrix engineered a seven-play, 74-yard drive.
Completions to Rakeem Williams (18 yards), David Frazier (47 yards) and Dawan Scott (nine yards) brought Miami to the Marshall one-yard line.
Spencer Treadwell was dropped for a one-yard loss before Miami drew a false start penalty.
Hendrix’s scramble brought the ball back to the one again, but it brought up a fourth down with mere seconds remaining. A pass attempt for Frazier in the left corner was stripped, and Marshall took at 28-3 lead into the locker room.
The late Miami drive illustrated two issues for MU all day.
1. The RedHawks were flagged 12 times for a total of 107 yards. Some of the penalties stunted drives or put Miami in poor down-and-distance situations.
2. Miami struggled in fourth down and red zone opportunities – particularly in the first half when MU converted 1 of 4 fourth down attempts and produced just three points on trips into the red zone.
“We tried to run a little bit. We obviously couldn’t knock them off the ball. There are going to be more people in the box,” Martin said. “They were loading the box and playing man (coverage) They were more physical than we were on the perimeter. We couldn’t even get in our routes.
... They hold us, and we’re too soft to run through them. We’ve got to run through some friction and make some plays.”
With the Thundering Herd holding a commanding halftime lead, the third quarter was critical to Miami hopes. The RedHawks responded with 17 straight points to pull within 28-20.
The scoring run started after J’Terius Jones recovered a Marshall fumble. Miami moved 58 yards in six plays. Hendrix finished the trip by hitting tight end and former Notre Dame teammate Alex Welch with a two-yard TD pass. Welch, like Hendrix a fifth-year senior who transferred to Miami after graduation at ND, grabbed the pass in traffic for his first collegiate touchdown reception.
Patterson booted a 24-yard field goal on Miami’s next possession to make it a 28-13 contest.
Miami was driving on its next possession when Hendrix was flushed out of the pocket. His pass on the run was picked off by A.J. Legget at the Marshall 21 and returned 22 yards. A Miami penalty on the play tacked on 15 more yards. However, the RedHawks defense stiffened and forced a punt.
Hendrix’s 41-yard pass to Williams was the big play in a seven-play scoring drive on Miami’s next possession. Scott tallied on a three-yard pass to pull the hosts within eight at 28-20.
Marshall turned ot the run more late, and Devon Johnson turned a fourth-and-two play into a 27-yard TD romp up the middle with 8:37 remaining in the game.
Miami came right back on the ensuing possession when Hendrix found Williams deep down the middle for a 40-yard score. It was 35-27 in favor of Marshall with 6:25 left.
Cato completed two big thrd-down throws on Marshall’s next possession. The 11-play drive covered 65 yards and took 4:24 seconds off the clock. Cato finally covered the final two yards for a clinching touchdown with just 2:01 remaining.
“We got it to where we wanted, 28-20 in the fourth and then we didn’t execute in the fourth, so there is lessons to be learned there,” Martin said.
Miami, which ranked at or near the bottom nationally in several offensive categories in 2013, proved to be a pretty potent offense in its first outing of the Martin era. The RedHawks actually had more first downs (22-20) than Marshall and enjoyed a 318-261 advantage in passing yards. The Herd prevailed in total yardage, but both teams were over 400 yards (Marshall 432, Miami 418).
Both teams also employed an uptempo offense along the way, and Miami managed to record 85 offensive plays. Marshall used 68 offensive snaps.
Miami, still looking for its first win since late 2012, remains at home next week when it plays Eastern Kentucky. The RedHawks will then wrap up non-conference play on the road against Michigan and Cincinnati.