— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Marshall football team won on two fronts Saturday night.
The Thundering Herd breezed past FCS member VMI, 56-17, in front of 23,875 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. And coach Doc Holliday got to see nearly all of his roster members not just in action, but contributing.
Freshman Corey Gammage leads the Herd in receiving with five catches for 82 yards and a TD. Redshirt freshman Talik Keaton starts at wide receiver, but makes his presence felt on special teams with five punt returns for 109 yards, including a 67-yarder for a touchdown in the first period to give Marshall a 14-0 lead. That put the Herd well on its way to its 15th straight win against a former rival from the Southern Conference when it was a member.
Bodes well for the Herd as it prepares for a Friday night showdown against Boise State in Boise, Idaho. Game time is 9 p.m. ESPN2 will have the game live.
Herd quarterbacks Isaiah Green and Alec Thompson completed passes to 11 different receivers and 29 players recorded at least one tackle Saturday. Green finished with a career-high four TD passes. The Herd rolled up 620 total yards. The defense limited the Keydets to 56 yards on the ground, meaning the streak for not allowing a 100-yard rusher has reached 15 games. Numbers also included four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“Young players made plays,” Holliday said. “That’s going to help us. We’ve got the ability to spread it around.”
“We have a lot of different receivers and I feel confident with all of them out on the field,” Green said. “We’ve been working hard since spring ball, so we’ve built a good chemistry.”
“We have a lot of weapons. That’s our edge,” Gammage said. “You don’t know what’s coming at you.”
Boise State, one of the favorites in the Mountain West Conference, rallied for an impressive season-opening win Saturday. The Broncos were supposed to play Florida State in Jacksonville, but with Hurricane Dorian threatening central Florida, the game got moved to Tallahassee on the home turf for the Seminoles. Boise State rallied from a 31-13 deficit to prevail, 36-31.
Boise State and Marshall once were Divison I-AA powers, but now are in the Group of 5 class. The Broncos have played their share of games against Power 5 members and had success.
“Two of the most successful I-AA schools who now compete in the Group of 5,” Holliday said. “Now we get to go to Boise to play. It will be a challenge, one we’re looking forward to.”
Holliday said preparation for Friday’s key game began a long time ago as the Herd knew it would be Game 2 on the schedule.
“The good thing is we prepared for Boise State all summer,” Holliday said. “We’ll add the Florida State game to it. We won’t be behind. Recovery is part of the concern.”
Events for a normal week have been moved up one day for each. That meant practice Sunday night.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us,” Gammage said. “We’ve got to execute, compete, no mistakes.”
The teams have met just once. That meeting came in 1994 when Boise State defeated the Herd, 28-24, on its the well-known Blue Turf (called Smurf Turf) in the semifinal round in the I-AA playoffs. The Broncos then came to Huntington for the championship game where Youngstown State would prevail, 28-14, at Edwards Stadium.
“We watched as much of the game as we could,” Herd center Levi Brown said about his teammates viewing the Broncos vs. Florida State on television before heading to the stadium. “We know all about the Blue turf. We’ll be there.”
One of the many busy Herd defenders was linebacker Tavante Beckett, who was making his first start alongside Jaquan Yulee. The two are from Chesapeake, Va., and played together at Indian River High School. Beckett is a transfer from Virginia Tech and sat out last season. He led the Herd in tackles with seven.
A moment of concern for Beckett, teammates and coaching staff came in the first period when Yulee was injured while defending on a pass. He stayed down for a long time, then went off on a stretcher. He raised a hand while being rolled out. His status is not known.
“It took a couple of plays to get over it,” Beckett said. “We’ve got a job to do. Do it for him. Now Boise. I love playing on ESPN.”
Keaton’s punt return work showed opponents better pay attention. He became the eighth player in program history with at least 100 yards in punt returns in a single game.
“I found a crease and I had to take it. It was the greatest feeling ever,” Keaton said. “When your number’s called, you have to do it.”
Boise State actually trailed 31-19 at halftime Saturday. The Broncos held Florida State to zero points, 68 total yards and four first downs in the second half. True freshman Hank Bachmeieir started at quarterback and threw for 407 yards.
The Broncos, who racked up 621 total yards on 108 snaps, are 16-9 against Power 5 teams since 2006.