HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Remember several weeks ago when the anxiety of Herd fans had reached critical levels over Marshall’s sluggish starts? The Herd’s offense had been sputtering out of the gate most of the season and it was taking well into the second quarter before it found its rhythm. In games against FAU and Middle Tennessee State, The Herd’s offense came out of the lockerroom resembling a Ford Fiesta stuck on a snowy West Virginia hillside.
Since then, Marshall’s offense has performed like a fine tuned Ferrari, blowing by opposing defenses leaving opponents heads’ spinning trying to figure out what just happened. On the flip side the defense has created turnovers on the first drive of two of the last three games and has forced the opposition out of their gameplans.
The Herd’s numbers in the first quarter of the last three games are down right scary if you’re an opposing defensive coordinator. Marshall is outscoring opponents 70-7 in the opening quarter of the last three games and gained 575 total yards. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is 22-for-36 passing for 426 yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively The Herd has been equally as dominant allowing the single score and 236 yards of offense. It has also forced two turnovers.
That’s not a quick start. That is a blistering fast initial quarter that helped diminish any thoughts that Southern Miss or UAB could pull off upset victories.
Compare the last three games to the first eight of the season and you’ll notice a stark contrast. Through the first two-thirds of the season, Marshall scored a combined 52 points in the first quarter while allowing 42 points.
“It’s just a mentality,” says center Chris Japserse. “You can’t ever get complacent even if you’re up 30 points. We found out that they can close the gap really quickly and you have to go to work every play.”
Last week, Marshall was driving toward a 28-0 first quarter lead when Tulsa’s Shawn Jackson picked off Cato and the Golden Hurricane blew down the field for its initial score. Tulsa was eventually able to erase the 21-0 deficit, thanks in large part to Marshall’s five turnovers in the game.
“If we take care of the ball we’re fine,” insisted coach Doc Holliday.
The game may have taken on a completely different complexion had Jackson not gotten a hand on Cato’s pass and caused the turnover. If Marshall punches the ball in for a fourth time in the first quarter, Tulsa may have rolled over, put its head down and the route would have been on. It would not have taken a fourth quarter comeback to secure The Herd’s seventh victory of the season.
FIU comes into Saturday’s game with a 1-9 record on the year and is allowing 37.5 points per game. Chances are pretty good Marshall can put another big number on the scoreboard in the first quarter against the Panthers. FIU is being outscored 95-20 in the first quarter this year. The second quarter isn’t much better. Opponents are crushing FIU 224-72 in the first half.
If Marshall plays the way it is capable of playing its very possible The Herd could put this game away early on.