Akron, OH—Many college football experts predicted Marshall’s run at an undefeated season would come to an end in its visit to Akron.
Those predictions were zipped up after the Thundering Herd’s 48-17 win over the Zips at InfoCision Stadium Saturday afternoon.
"For the most part, I was pleased," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "We challenged our kids about being physical and being a complete team and being the best football team on the field today like we were a week ago and I thought we did that."
|Tommy Shuler hauls in a catch. Photo by Falecia Collier.|
For the first time since the 1938 season, Marshall has scored 40-plus points in each of its first four games moving to 4-0 heading into the bye week. After Oregon failed to surpass the 40-point plateau Saturday night, Marshall was left as the lone team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games.
Marshall scored at will over the first 15 minutes of play as it rushed out to a 17-0 lead over Akron. Rakeem Cato scampered in from 11 yards for the game’s first score as the Heisman Trophy candidate orchestrated a 9-play 80-yard drive that consumed over three minutes off the clock. It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Zips this season.
Akron would have another first on the ensuing drive after Arnold Blackmon forced Hakeem Lawrence to fumble allowing Antavis Rowe to make the recovery setting up Marshall’s second drive. Justin Haig would connect on a 24-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0 after another long sustained drive by the Herd.
But it was the Herd’s defense that set the tone during the opening quarter of the game. Akron’s offense failed to move the ball after Pohl threw three consecutive incomplete passes. Forced to punt, Akron sent a short punt to Marshall that was downed at midfield and the Herd would need only three plays to find pay dirt once again.
Cato hit tight end Eric Frohnapfel on a 25-yard crossing route on first down and connected with Angelo Jean-Louis two plays later for a 24-yard touchdown. Cato ran his consecutive games throwing a touchdown streak to 36 on the scoring strike and stands only two games shy of tying current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who set the record while playing at Wisconsin and N.C. State.
|Devon Johnson stiff-arms the defense. Photo by Falecia Collier|
Devon Johnson kicked off the second quarter for the Herd as the big man rumbled through three would-be tacklers for a 22-yard touchdown making it 24-0. Johnson said he simply followed Coach Barclay’s instructions of how to attack the defense.
“I knew I was going to have to bounce it outside because of the where the lineman was at,” said Johnson of his scoring run. “I knew if I cleared the Sam linebacker I was going to be one-on-one with the safety and that’s something Coach Barclay stresses is to win your one-on-one battles and that’s what I did.”
Akron compiled a 10-play drive that stalled out at the Marshall 7-yard line as the Zips settled for a 24-yard field goal that trimmed the Herd’s lead to 24-3.
Akron threatened to swing the momentum after Cato was picked off in the first pass of the ensuing drive but AJ Leggett would calm the surge as he picked off Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Although many say Leggett’s pick was a statement play in the game, he said he just played as he’s been coached.
“I was just trying to make a play on the ball,” Leggett said of his interception. “I saw the quarterback’s eyes and the receiver break so I just tried to make a play on the ball.”
Marshall took full advantage of the Akron turnover.
In a system nicknamed “Thunder and Lightning”—referring to Marshall’s running back stable of Johnson (Thunder) along with Remi Watson and Steward Butler (Lightning)—it was a shot of lightning from Watson that provided the longest rushing attempt since Daruis Marshall’s 80-yard game-winning touchdown run in 2009 home win over Bowling Green. The junior exploded into the Zips defense like a flash of lightning for an 80-yard touchdown run putting the Herd up 31-3.
“It’s just a feeling through the course of the game that you get in your body,” Watson said of his 80-yard touchdown run. “I was like just run, run just run and there was no way I was letting anybody chase me down.”
Watson, who turned in his first 100-yard rushing game of his career after finishing with 124 yards on only nine carries, picked up the slack from a missing Butler who was held out after a poor week of preparation.
"I didn't like the way he practiced the last week," Holliday said of Butler. "If I don't like the way he practices, he ain't going to play. We've got plenty of backs. If they practice well, they play. If they don't, they sit over by me and watch. He sat over by me and watched today."
While Akron entered the game boasting a powerful defense through its first two games, it was Marshall that dominated the first half. Although Akron held the ball for nearly 16 minutes in the first half, they were 1-of-8 on third down conversions and were held to only 197 total yards of offense.
|Marshall's defense has yet to allow a first half TD. |
Photo by Falecia Collier
“Coach Heater is always on us about defense winning games," Leggett said. "I feel like as long as our offense keeps putting up 40 points a game there’s no reason we should lose.”
Looking to erase a sloppy close to the first half, Marshall marched 75 yards in seven plays that ended with on a Cato 13-yard rushing touchdown—his second of the game—putting the Herd up 38-3.
“We talked at halftime about coming out taking the ball right down the field,” Holliday said. “We did that and it was good to see.”
Akron failed once again to mount any form of an offensive threat and would turn the ball over on downs to Marshall after Pohl’s fourth down conversion attempt fell short of its intended target.
With the game well at hand, Holliday turned to his youthful reserves in what would be Cato’s final offensive series of the game. Ryan Yurachek made back-to-back catches during the 13-play 6-minute and 30-second drive that finished with another Haig field goal, pushing the lead to 41-3.
Marshall running back Brandon Byrd carried the work load in the final quarter and added his contribution to the effort after breaking a 19-yard run that resulted in his first career touchdown as a member of the Herd.
With all the positive’s Marshall has produced through its first four games, there is one area Holliday said must be addressed immediately, penalties. The Herd was flagged 20 times for 188 yards tying a program record for most penalties in a contest.
“I’m anxious to see the tape,” Holliday said regarding his team being flagged 20 times. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that had 20 penalties. If we are coached that bad that’s on me and I’ve got to get that corrected.”
The Herd will have two full weeks to prepare for its first opponent in conference play as the team has its first bye week of the season. Marshall travels to Old Dominion October 4th for its first game in CUSA play.