Marshall has a short week to improve
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — As Marshall University defensive end Juwon Young exited post-game interviews Saturday night, he uttered three words that summed up the Thundering Herd’s 20-17 football win at Western Kentucky.
“Just win, baby,” Young said with a smile.
Indeed, Marshall (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) won. However, the Herd has to shore up several of its issues in a short time frame to be prepared for a 7:30 p.m. Friday night tilt with Middle Tennessee (2-2, 1-0), that is coming off a 25-24 upset of East Division favorite Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Friday’s game in Joan C. Edwards Stadium is a CBS Sports Network telecast.
The game takes on significant meaning with the Blue Raiders coming in with a 1-0 conference record and having a win in hand over one of the top teams in C-USA.
As Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has said previously, each week is like its own championship game and this will be no different.
The most glaring Marshall issue Saturday was turnovers. The Herd had four: three interceptions and one fumble. All of the turnovers either occurred on the Western Kentucky side of the field, eliminating scoring opportunities for the Herd to distance itself early.
Turnovers have become a big issue for the Herd that has 11 in its last three games after not committing any in the season-opening win at Miami (Ohio).
With Middle Tennessee’s ability to put up points behind veteran quarterback Brent Stockstill, the Herd can’t afford to miss out on scoring opportunities.
“There were interceptions, so we’ve got to get the quarterback squared away,” Holliday said. “One of them a couple of them may have not been on him, but at the end of the day, they are interceptions. You can’t turn the ball over (four) times or you’re not going to win many games.”
Another area that the Herd has to shore up comes on defense. Marshall’s defense has been very good and aided the Herd in its 3-1 start, but the unit is giving up big plays at bad times.
On Western Kentucky’s only sustained scoring drive, quarterback Steven Duncan hit tight end Mik’Quan Deane for 43 yards on a third-and-14 from deep in Hilltoppers’ territory. Instead of Marshall’s defense getting off the field and gaining possession in good field position, the drive ended with Duncan’s scoring run that gave the Hilltoppers the lead in the second quarter.
The most glaring defensive mistake nearly cost the Herd the game.
On a third-and-15 with the game on the line, Marshall dropped into coverage, which provided Duncan time to set. A blown coverage allowed WKU receiver Jacquez Sloan to slip behind the defense for a 60-yard gain that set the Hilltoppers up in position to tie or win the game.
Granted, the defense made a play to win the game, but it should’ve never come to that point. Receivers should not get behind coverage when a team drops seven in a long third down situation especially for a team that has plenty of defensive experience on the field.
It might seem like only a couple plays out of an entire game, but Stockstill is a step up in quarterback play from Duncan and if the Herd makes those types of mistakes against him, the senior quarterback will make Marshall pay.
RUSHING ATTACK PICKS UP: After rushing for only 32 yards on 13 carries in the first half, Marshall did a better job of running the football in the second half of the win.
True, Marshall still only rushed for 113 yards in the game, but the Herd was able to find some chunks in the fourth quarter with Tyler King getting going in spurts.
King had just six yards on three carries in the first three quarters, but had five carries for 36 yards in the fourth quarter while showing the explosiveness that had been seen in 2017. King added the Herd’s longest rush of the season a 20-yard burst in the fourth to set up a field goal.
Marshall averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
“Now, 3.4 is not good enough,” Holliday said. “We want to run the ball better. ... We didn’t run the ball well enough. We’ve got to work to continue to get better at doing that, but at times, we ran the ball pretty well.”
ONE FOR THE AGES: Not only was Marshall’s 20-17 win part of a wild and crazy affair, it was an experience most Herd fans had never seen. Prior to Saturday, Marshall had not won in Bowling Green, Kentucky, since 1950 a span of 68 years between victories at Western Kentucky.
PICKING OFF THE ’TOPS: Marshall cornerback Nazeeh Johnson picked off WKU’s Steven Duncan in the middle of the fourth quarter. The interception was the second of Johnson’s career with both coming against Western Kentucky.
In 2017, Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown to help the Herd to a 30-23 win.
Middle Tennessee (2-2, 1-0)
at Marshall (3-1, 1-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Joan C. Edwards Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM