Marshall will travel to Greenville, N.C. for a game on Nov. 8 that will have East Division title implications. It seemed very long ago that the Thundering Herd was on a three-game losing streak after a 3-1, 2-0 C-USA start in the first four games. MU lost at West Virginia, lost at home to Cincinnati and lost to a 2-7 UAB team, 23-21, in Birmingham about 10 days ago.
Darius Marshall held the ball out over the goal line during his 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put The Herd up by a 37-9 margin over the Houston Cougars. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Tonight, the Herd warmed up in their white practice helmets, then went to the locker room and equipment manager Rich Worner broke out the game helmets painted "Pearl Kelly, No. 2, Iridescent." Worner and his staff took apart all the white helmets after UAB, shipped them to Schutt in Easton, Pa. to be painted, then began applying white "M" and white stripe to the helmets over the weekend. Two helmets were rejected by the reconditioner, and two new replacements were painted Monday morning and shipped to MU at Noon on Tuesday, just eight hours before the game.
Marshall would wear green helmets for the first time since Stan Parrish coached the Marshall team to a first winning season at 6-5 in 1984, then a 7-3-1 mark in '85. MU last wore a non-white helmet in the 1989 final season of George Chaump, when the Herd went with a silver helmet with green-white-green stripe and a outline of West Virginia on the sides.
Cody Slate's 9-yard TD pass from Mark Cann got things rolling for The Herd, as Marshall jumped out to a 10-0 lead over Houston. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Thundering Herd players came in from warm-ups to find the helmets in their lockers, and surprisingly, none of the players knew about the change for this game only. MU was stripping the helmets Wednesday at 1 a.m. to ship them back to Schutt for painting them again with the white metal-flake look worn by MU since 1993. It was a huge deal for the players, who compared it or thought it exceeded Christmas morning.
More important that the green helmets, at least to MU head coach Mark Snyder, was the 20,716 true Green Herd fans who turned out for a 40-degree night with the wind blowing from eight to upwards of 20 miles per hour, lowering the temps into the low 30s/upper 20s with the wind chill. But those fans that showed certainly gave their all, Snyder said after the game.
"They sure did. I want to shout out to our fans on a cold night," said the coach. He was happy to see his team finally have the kind of game the coaching staff knew they were capable of for about the last month. "We put together four good quarters of football. We had to control the line of scrimmage and play a tough game against these spread teams. They have endured a long week," said Snyder of the ten days since the loss at UAB.
Marshall's Michael Janac was in the face of UH quarterback Case Keenum all night long. Janac registerd 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Snyder and his team have endured some shots from fans and the press during the three-game losing streak. But the team and coaches have not shown any signs of surrender, coming back after the UAB loss with statements along the line of we can't look back and Houston is next.
"We have support people don't know about. We have super fans," said Snyder, again praising the Herd's supporters on a cold Tuesday night. He also praised the pass rush of the Herd defense, which sacked Case Keenum of Houston four times on the night, but rattled his cage a number of times with quarterback hurries and passes thrown away.
This fingertip tackle by Houston's Quinten Williams was all that stood between Darius Passmore and the end zone. Passmore had 42 yards rushing and 71 yards receiving against the Cougars. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"The things people don't see are the hurry throws, almost as good as a sack. I thought they all played well. These kids came and worked and practiced and came out to play tonight," said Snyder. "We won the turnover battle tonight." Marshall senior linebacker Maurice Kitchens had an interception for the second game in a row, plus returned a fumble by Houston at the MU four-yard line 80 yards to set up a third quarter score. MU was up 37-9, and had an edge of 316 yards to 254 on UH. The Cougars would add two touchdowns and about 180 yards in the fourth quarter, after the game was essentially done.
Kitchens finished with eight tackles and one sack in addition to his take-aways. Junior Ashton Hall, starting in place of injured senior C.J. Spillman at safety, had eight tackles and an interception he returned for 39 yards. Sophomore defensive end Michael Janac bounced back from a poor showing at UAB with nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on the night, while fellow end John Jacobs, starting for injured Ian Hoskins, had three tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Junior linbackers Mario Harvey (six tackles, 0.5 sacks) and Brandon Burns (four tackles, 1.0 sack) also played well.
Offensively, Chubb Small rushed for a career-best 81 yards on 19 carries and was a big part of the offense rushing for 249 yards a week after only gaining six yards in the first half against UAB. Small has rushed for 193 yards on the ground in the last three games, an average of 64 yards per game.
Maurice Kitchens ran this fumble recovery back 80 yards against Houston. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"The offensive line came through for us tonight," said Small. "Mark Cann's passing was big, everything was good." Darius Marshall had 102 yards rushing in addition to Small's yards, and Small thought that was big, sharing 34 carries. "In the game, with me and Darius, they keep our legs fresh. The running game was important tonight."
Snyder had placed an emphasis on establishing the run, and MU had 121 yards in the first half on the ground, 128 in the second and two touchdowns on the ground, one for Marshall and one for Cann. Small knew he had to set a tone for the younger players the last ten days. "I got to keep my head up, then motivate those young players. They look up to me, and I have to show them what to do. Swagger is very important, and we talked about before the game getting our swagger back. That's the way people look at you. We've got to stay ready to win."
Small was asked about when they went to the locker room and found the green helmets, hidden in the team's lock boxes in each locker. "That was a big surprise. (Snyder and Worner) came through on the surprise and it helped us get ready to play tonight." When asked about the green helmets, Snyder had a sly smile about the new green shells. "It was just a little something-something for just this game," said the coach.
Marshall was ahead at the half 16-3 over Houston, thanks to three Craig Rantanamorn field goals, a nine-yard touchdown pass from Cann to Slate and a swarming Herd defense. MU limited Houston to just eight first downs and 130 yards of total offense in the opening half. The UH offensive line, down two tackles entering the game and losing a third when Josh Bell went out of the game, had no answer for the Herd's defensive front.
The Herd defense also broke up a couple of passes, including DeQuan Bembry in the end zone to force a field goal, and Kitchens came up with his interception. Cann was 12-for-20 in the first half for 137 yards, and the Marshall running game set the tone with 25 carries for 121 yards. Marshall had 258 yards in total offense, a 15-8 edge in first downs and a time of possession edge of 19:20 to 10:40.
Darius Passmore also spent time at quarterback in the "Wild Herd" formation that is sweeping the nation. He rushed five times for 46 yards, over nine yards a carry, plus caught two passes for a game best 67 yards, including a 65-yard effort. Chubb Small led the Herd in rushing with 55 yards on 11 carries. Passmore finished the game with 42 yards rushing and 71 yards receiving. Emmanuel Spann had five catches for 33 yards, including a five-yard score in the third, and caught his 100th pass of his career. Passmore needs nine more for 100 in two seasons.
Snyder will have about a week and one-half to get the Herd ready for the first place match-up with ECU. "We and East Carolina are a lot alike. It should be a great game." The Herd will get to watch the Pirates on Sunday night before the Saturday, Nov. 8 game in Greenville."
The ugly part of the game was in the third quarter, when Houston's Patrick Edwards apparently broke his leg and suffered other wounds going for a pass in the south end zone. He crashed into some wagons used by the MU "Marching Thunder" marching band and suffered a "Joe Theisman-like" break to his leg. He was taken off the field on the cart, and reports were incomplete on his condition at press time.