— By David Walsh
It comes down to this for Marshall football. Win next week against Arkansas State or say farewell to bowl eligibility.
Marshall and South Alabama each had a shot at gaining bowl eligibility Saturday and the Jaguars earned the prize with a 28-0 win over the Thundering Herd in front of 14,105 fans at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
Before Saturday, the Herd’s last shutout loss came in 2020 against Rice (20-0). On defense, the Jaguars (6-5, 4-3) kept Marshall (5-6, 2-5) out of the red zone for the game. Marshall’s lowest point total before this shutout was six in a 34-6 loss at Coastal Carolina on Oct. 26.
Marshall will meet Arkansas State next Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. It will be Senior Day for the Herd. Arkansas State routed Texas State, 77-31, Saturday to reach six wins and become eligible for a bowl.
“We got our butts kicked tonight,” Marshall coach Charles Huff said. “We talked all week about not having an emotional hangover from last week (38-33 win over Georgia Southern in Memorial Game). We came out very low mo. Again, we have issues turning the ball over.”
Cole Pennington made his second straight start at quarterback for the Herd as Cam Fancher warmed up, but did not dress.
Penning, whose father Chad had an outstanding career at Marshall and played in the NFL with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, completed 22-of-36 passes for 159 yards. He had three picked off — with South Alabama converting the first two into first-quarter field goals.
Rasheen Ali carried 16 times for 55 yards and is 13 yards short of 1,000 for the season. The Herd had 42 yards rushing, 201 in total offense and went 3-of-14 on third down. Linebackers Stephen Dix Jr. and Eli Neal led in tackles with 14 apiece.
“We had a lot of errant throws,” Huff said. “We got our butts kicked up front. They played with an unbelievable passion. We’ve got a decision to make. We’ve got to run back up the hill in seven days.”
The Jaguars picked off Pennington passes on the first two series and converted the turnovers into six points on field goals of 47 and 43 yards by Diego Guajardo. On their third possession, the home team went 51 yards in four plays for a TD on a 25-yard pass from Carter Bradley to Jamaal Pritchett and 2-point conversion and 14-0 lead with 5:02 left in the first period.
In the second period, Braylon Reynolds ripped off a 35-yard run down to the Herd 15. Three plays later, Bradley found La’Damian Webb for an 8-yard TD pass and 21-0 lead with 3:19 left in the second period.
In the fourth period, the Herd turned the ball over on down at its 46 with 14:01 left. On the ensuing drive, Bradley completed a 38-yard pass to Caullin Lacy for a first down at the Herd 6. Webb went over for a TD a play later to complete the scoring. Before that TD, the Herd had stopped the Jaguars on downs inside the 1. Lacy has now caught at least one pass in 36 straight games.
South Alabama racked up 197 yards rushing and 196 through the air for a 393 total. Bradley connected on 17-of-23 passes for 176 yards. Webb carried 24 times for 117 yards and the two scores gives the SBC lead with 17. Lacy, the top receiver in the SBC, snared nine for 126 yards.
“The defense was on the field way too much,” Huff said. “We’re down some guys and the young guys have to grow up fast. We did bow our neck on the goal line (stop). We’ve got to help out on offense. We can’t play that kind of football individually on one side of the ball. No rhythm, continuity. Lot of issues. Got a lot to clean up in a little bit of time. We fought. Trying doesn’t win games. Man up or get punched in the mouth again. This is the last whatever unless we make it one more.”
This was the first meeting between the Herd and South Alabama. Earlier in the week, Ali was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The Herd’s road record is 1-5. The win came at East Carolina on September 9.
Marshall’s last losing season was 3-9 in 2016.