MU football riding an emotional roller coaster
This football season has been an emotional roller coaster.
It all began in Marshall’s preseason camp with the unexpected death of iconic Young Thundering Herd quarterback Reggie Oliver. The 66-year-old Oliver was the face of the Marshall team that rose from the ashes of the horrific 1970 plane crash.
His death resonated in every corner of the Herd universe.
Then, came the season-opening game against Miami (Ohio) in Oxford, Ohio. The game was scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m., but thunderstorms featuring prolific lightning bolts rolled through the area.
Since Yager Stadium has metal seating, the game was delayed twice. It finally kicked off at 6 p.m. and Marshall hung on to win, 35-28.
Next, there was the home opener against Eastern Kentucky, which wasn’t exactly a work of art. The Herd managed to win, 32-16, but special-teams play was horrific, leading to Marshall committing four turnovers.
Then, Mother Nature struck again. Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina and South Carolina so ferociously, Marshall’s game on Sept. 15 against the Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina, was canceled due to safety concerns.
That, too, was emotional.
It led to an unscheduled bye week, but it didn’t help Marshall prepare for N.C. State. The Wolfpack defeated the Herd by the exact same 37-20 score it had beaten MU by in 2017.
Then, only two days prior to Marshall’s first Conference USA game at Western Kentucky, former Marshall star quarterback Michael Payton lost his battle with cancer and passed away on Sept. 27 at the age of 48.
Payton led Marshall to its first NCAA I-AA national championship and never will be forgotten for his performances on the field and his advocacy role off the gridiron.
Next, Marshall barely defeated the Hilltoppers, 20-17, on a touchdown pass with only 1:44 remaining. But on that play, starting quarterback Isaiah Green suffered an injury to his left knee. That meant he wouldn’t be able to play in Marshall’s important game against Middle Tennessee the next week in Huntington.
That’s when ballyhooed graduate transfer quarterback Alex Thomson stepped up. He hadn’t played in 13 months, and the rust was evident. So were the adjustments Middle Tennessee made at halftime, leading to 24 consecutive points and a 34-24 defeat.
The natives were restless, but a pair of impressive wins over Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic provided new hope for the “special season” that had been promoted.
Then, there was the controversial Southern Miss game. There had been debating whether the prior bye week was good because it allowed for injuries to heal or bad because it interrupted Marshall’s momentum. The latter was clearly the answer as the Herd struggled.
When Thomson tossed an interception leading to a Southern Miss touchdown, MU made the surprising move of replacing Thomson with Green, who hadn’t played in four weeks. With only 44 seconds remaining in the half, Green was sacked from behind, fumbled and Southern Miss returned the bobble 17 yards for an improbable TD.
That led to varying degrees of discord in Marshall’s halftime locker room and a players’ only meeting after the game.
Next, on Tuesday night, it was learned that former MU star running back Devon Johnson had died at the age of 25.
Three former greats passed away. Mother Nature wreaked havoc with two games. There’s a quarterback controversy. And Marshall’s team appears to be in turmoil. Stop the ride, I want to get off.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.