— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It took a while, but when Marshall’s offense found its stride, that proved too much for VMI to handle.
The Thundering Herd got three TD passes from quarterback Isaiah Green in the first half and its first punt return for a score since 2015 and rolled past the Keydets, 56-17, in in the season opener for both schools Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The outcome sets up a big Week 2 for Marshall. The Herd travels to Boise State for a showdown Friday at 9 p.m. ESPN2 will air the game live.
The Broncos, a favorite to win the Mountain West Conference, opened the season Saturday with a 36-31 win over Florida State in Tallahassee. Boise State trailed at one point, 31-13. The Broncos rolled up 621 total yards on 103 snaps. Marshall was the the preseason pick to win the East Division in Conference USA.
“We started slowly, made adjustments, got it rolling and kept it going,” Green said.
There were a couple of scary moments for the Herd. Linebacker Jaquan Yulee went down after contact on a first-quarter pass breakup. He ended up leaving the field on a stretcher with 49 seconds on the clock. He put a hand up on the ride out to put the 23,875 fans a bit more at ease.
On the final drive of the first half, Green sprinted downfield on a scramble after getting pressure, slid to the turf and on the way down took a shot near the head from VMI’s Josh Sarratt. He got called for targeting and ejected. Backup quarterback Alex Thomson came on complete the scoring drive, a 1-yard TD run by Brenden Knox for a 35-7 lead.
VMI, which went 1-10 a year ago, got on the board in the second quarter when Reece Udinski connected with Javeon Lara for a 50-yard TD.
Marshall made it 15 straight wins over the Keydets, an FCS school. This was the first meeting between the two schools since 1996. The Herd and the Keydets used to be rivals when Marshall called the Southern Conference home.
Green piled up 183 yards through the air in the first half and rushed for 45 yards. His scoring tosses covered 29 yards to Willie Johnson, 51 to Artie Henry and 4 to Xavier Gaines. Tyler King led the Herd ground game with 77 yards.
Green returned in the third period and led the Herd on a TD drive with the capper a 33-yard strike to redshirt freshman Corey Grammage for his career-best fourth TD through the air. He came out later in the period with Thompson taking over. Knox had a 1-yard TD run late in the third period to cap the 99-yard drive to boost the lead to 49-7. Green finished with 238 yards passing and collected 46 on eight rushes.
“I wanted to show I was fine,” said Green, who made it through concussion protocol. “I wanted to go back in.”
Marshall amassed 620 total yards, its first 600-plus effort since Oct. 31, 2015 against Charlotte. The big night on offense and point production allowed the Herd to sub freely in the second half.
Gammage led Herd receivers with five catches for 82 yards. Green and Thompson spread the ball around well.
“We had to throw it,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “They put 8 or 9 in the box. The young kids stepped up and that’s good to see. We spread it around more. That will help us. We did what we’re supposed to do.”
“It’s a blessing to get into the end zone,” Gammage said. “The team pushed me, motivated me.”
VMI had 257 total yards. Udinski connected on 20 of 35 for 192 yards.
This was the 17th time the Herd scored 50-plus points in a game under Holliday.
“We’ve got to get better in all three phases,” Holliday said. “We’ve got a quick turnaround.”
The Herd will fly out to Idaho on Wednesday.