Blame gets spread around for Herd loss
HUNTINGTON — As Marshall University football coaches and players watch film of Saturday’s loss at Southern Miss, there will be a resonating sight on the screen.
There wasn’t one particular area that was responsible for the loss. Instead, there were miscues in each facet of the game that led to Southern Miss (4-4, 4-2) defeating Marshall, 26-14, in Hattiesburg, Miss., which essentially ended Marshall’s chances of an East Division title and berth in the Conference USA Championship game.
“I’m disappointed in the way we played,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Any loss is tough to swallow, but this one took on a more intense feel because of the magnitude of the implications, as well as how the loss came about at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
For the first 25 minutes, Marshall (5-3, 3-2) executed its game plan well, winning the field position and turnover battle, which led to a 10-3 lead with an opportunity to go up two scores following a second turnover from Southern Miss.
Instead of putting the Golden Eagles away early with a score that would’ve extended the lead while also giving Marshall possession after halftime, an interception thrown by Alex Thomson gave Southern Miss life and the Golden Eagles cashed in with a touchdown to tie it.
From there, Marshall unraveled. Instead of regrouping at halftime, the Thundering Herd coaching staff opted to bring in backup quarterback Isaiah Green with 44 seconds left in the half in an attempt to execute a two-minute drill to get points and go back on top.
It was not only Green’s first action since the Sept. 29 game at Western Kentucky, but he also had not practiced because of an undisclosed leg injury that kept him out of action.
The plan immediately backfired as Green held onto the ball too long on his first snap and was strip-sacked from behind by Jacques Turner. Darian Yancey scooped up the fumble and returned it 17 yards for a score to put Southern Miss ahead.
In the final three minutes of the half, Marshall went from having its foot on the throat of Southern Miss to reeling in a spiral that sent them to an angry locker room trailing, 17-10.
“We were down and we had some things in the locker room,” Marshall defensive back Nazeeh Johnson said. “We can’t have those things. We’ve just got to come together.”
Things didn’t get much better after the halftime break. Marshall was able to tie the game on a touchdown run from Anthony Anderson in the third period, but mistakes continued to pile up down the stretch.
Four Marshall turnovers led to 17 points for Southern Miss, a statistic that’s magnified in a two-point loss.
And, as solid as the Herd defense was, they were not without fault in the loss, either.
Marshall gave up only 222 yards of total offense and 3.2 yards per play, but there were several missed tackles — none bigger than a missed tackle in the flat on a screen pass to Southern Miss wide receiver Quez Watkins with the Golden Eagles backed up against their own goal line. The play went for 57 yards and put Southern Miss in scoring territory.
On the same drive, Marshall had an off-sides penalty on a fourth down and a pass interference penalty on a third down opportunity that continued the drive for the Golden Eagles before the final nail in the Herd’s coffin — a pass interference penalty on a fake field goal attempt after the Marshall defense had overcome its own miscues to force a fourth down once again.
“We had a penalty on the fake field goal there, jumped off sides the one time,” Holliday said. “Just way, way too many mistakes.”
Three plays later, Southern Miss got a quarterback sneak into the end zone to go up two scores. Marshall rallied with a late score, but the mistakes were too much to overcome.
“We had a lot of mistakes,” Marshall safety Malik Gant said. “As a team — special teams, offense, defense — we’ve got to get back to the drawing board and get back to playing like ourselves.”
Gant, who has consistently been a team captain and vocal leader, did not pull any punches after the game, calling it a disappointment to come out of a bye week with such a performance after building momentum heading into the open date.
“The goals to win this game were to not get complacent and not let that bye week get us lazy and slouchy and feeling like we arrived,” Gant said. “I think that’s probably one of the big things that happened this game. It felt like mentally-wise and focus-wise, we weren’t playing like ourselves.”
Marshall is back at home for a 2:30 p.m. Saturday conference game against Charlotte (4-5,3-2).
CHARLOTTE AT MARSHALL
WHEN: 2:20 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington
RADIO: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 881-FM