HUNTINTONTON, W.Va.—Marshall wanted to set the tone early on after a deflating loss on the road in its previous game at Middle Tennessee State. So when Marshall won the opening coin toss it chose to go on defense to start the game and it did exactly what it wanted to.
The Herd forced a fumble on the opening drive of the game and wasted no time in taking advantage. On Marshall’s first offensive play of the game, Rakeem Cato hit Gator Hoskins for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
The route was on from there as Marshall (5-3) rolled over Southern Miss (0-8) 61-13.
Cato threw five touchdowns, one short of tying the single game record held by Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington, and completed 21-of-28 for 262 yards. Running backs Essray Taliaferro and Kevin Grooms had 109 and 110 yards respectively as The Herd piled up 304 yards on the ground.
Marshall put the pedal down and did not let up in the opening quarter, as it raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first 15 minutes. Cato had touchdown passes of 27, 15, 23 and 1 yard, hitting four different receivers for scores.
“Coach Legg has been preaching that to us all week just to get out there and start fast and get a comfortable lead and take over the game,” said Cato.
While The Herd’s offense looked unstoppable in the first quarter the defense was stifling. Southern Miss ran 17 plays in the first quarter but gained only 46 yards. Compare that to Marshall, which ran 16 plays for 168 yards in the same quarter.
“The big goal for this game was to start fast,” said Taliaferro. “We normally start slow and play down to our level of competition, so this week was especially emphasized by coming out in the first quarter and scoring on the first drive and then having our defense make stops.”
As good as Marshall looked in the first quarter, the second quarter was as equally as ugly. Up 28-0, The Herd’s first three drives of the second quarter ended with two fumbles and a punt. The first turnover came as Rakeem Cato scrambled, trying to create something out of nothing. Cato ran into one of his own linemen and lost the handle on the ball. Southern Miss dived on the loose football but would be unable to convert the turnover into points.
The Herd’s defense was bending, allowing Southern Miss to drive inside the five-yard line but it did not break. On fourth and goal from the three-yard line, the defense turned the Golden Eagles away.
However, Marshall would turn the ball over again. Essray Taliaferro broke into the secondary and looked to be on his way to a 61-yard touchdown run. But Taliaferro was caught from behind at the Southern Miss six-yard line and had the ball punched out by Emmanuel Johnson. The ball rolled through the endzone giving the ball back to Southern Miss. The 55-yard gain prior to the fumble was the longest run of Taliaferro’s career.
“I truly thought I was in the clear,” explained Taliaferro. “Usually you can feel them coming but I didn’t feel him and he made a great play. “
Taliaferro’s fumble set up the Golden Eagles’ only touchdown of the game. Nick Mullins hit Markese Wilkins for an 81-yard touchdown pass two plays later. It was the first play of 50 yards or more the Marshall defense has allowed all season.
“Those things shouldn’t happen and we have to get the couple of issues that we had fixed,” said coach Doc Holliday. “It’s important that we come back and play very well next weekend.”
After Marshall went three-and-out on it’s next offensive possession, Southern Miss moved down the field and tried to make things interesting for a moment. Corey Acosta booted a 39-yard field goal to make it a 28-10 game with 2:40 remaining in the half.
That would be as close as the Golden Eagles would get.
Cato and company went back to work and ran the two-minute drill to perfection. Cato found his favorite target, Tommy Shuler, for a nine-yard touchdown with 27 second remaining the half.
Marshall put any doubt about the outcome to rest in the third quarter. Right out of the half, Essray Taliaferro sprinted for an 18-yard touchdown run. Later, Kevin Grooms broke loose for a 75-yard scoring run, his longest rush of the season giving Marshall a 48-13 lead.
The Herd would tack on two more scores in the fourth quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel to Devonte Allen. Steward Butler also broke loose for a 59-yard touchdown run to salt the game away.
Marshall finished the day with 636 yards of total offense.
The Herd improves to 5-3 on the year and is a win way from bowl eligibility. It will be back at home next Saturday to play host to UAB. Kickoff is set for noon.