Marshall running back Darius Marshall ran for 118 yards to become the tenth back in Herd history to rush for over 1,000 yards for the season. He now has 1,001 yards in 2008, and follows in the footsteps of Ahmad Bradshaw in 2006, who is now with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who had 1,523 that season.
Other Herd players to top the magic four-figures in the rushing game include Earl Charles (2003/1,039), Doug Chapman (1998/1,184; 1996/1,238), Erik Thomas (1996/1,296), Chris Parker (1995/1,833-MU record; 1994/1,728; 1993/1,750), MU Hall of Fame member Ron Darby (1988/1,282; 1987/1,506), Ron Lear - "The Jet" (1979/1,162), C.W. Geiger (1977/1,039) and College Football Hall of Fame/MU HOF member Jackie Hunt, who had 1,228 yards on just his scoring record of 27 rushing touchdowns in 1940.
“How about our offensive line? Earlier I was talking about it," said head coach Mark Snyder after the game. "I’ve noticed these guys during the last couple weeks in the walkthrough – those big offensive linemen at the end of practice are hugging him, walking off the field together. They have a little ‘mojo’ going right now. That’s going to bode well for Marshall in the future, no question.”
The Herd ran the ball well, but the passing game was very ineffective. Mark Cann passed for just 83 yards in the game, hitting just 13-of-24 with one interception. Cody Slate caught a touchdown in his sixth consecutive game, from 15-yards to tie the game, and caught seven total passes to lead Marshall. He only gained 37 yards on seven catches, a little over five yards per carry.
Defensively, Maurice Kitchens recorded his fourth interception of the season, which leads the team and could well be the second year in a row a defensive back does not lead in picks of opposing passers. Kitchens also had five tackles and the Herd's only sack. T.J. Drakeford forced and recovered a fumble, had two passes knocked away and two tackles. Mario Harvey led the Herd in tackles for the third straight week, with eight, and leads the team overall with 91 total tackles on the season.
Rice quarterback Chase Clement passed for 315 yards and four touchdowns, hitting 35-of-41 passes, and ran for a score. Clement's primary target was Jarrett Dillard, who had six catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Corbin Smiter had four receptions for 120 yards and one score. Clement also had 53 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Rice got off to a fast start by Clement rushing for a 12-yard score around the right end to put the Owls ahead, 7-0, with 11:42 remaining in the first quarter. On its next possession, the MU defense held and forced Rice to punt. Clement punted perfectly and the Owls downed his punt at the Marshall one-yard line, setting up an long drive that would put the Herd into the end zone.
“That’s why we wanted to start the game [with the ball]. We wanted to take the ball and score first," said Snyder. "That didn’t happen – they got a quick seven points on us. But we came back and marched it right down the field. It was working to plan until we came out in the second half.
"There were probably four or five times that we were very close to getting a first down but I had to punt the ball because we were on our side of the 50-yard line. For Rice, it was good coaching. They switched up the tempo on us.”
An 18-play, 99-yard scoring drive for the Thundering Herd was largely done on the ground as MU ran 15 of 18 plays, and Cann capped the scoring march with a nine-yard strike to Cody Slate to tie the game. The teams traded possessions for the rest of the half as Marshall was unable to take advantage of a successful fake punt by Kase Whitehead and Kitchens interception to end the Owls' last drive last drive of the first and the score 7-7 at half.
“It’s a tale of two halves. In the second half they changed up the tempo of their offense; they changed the pace on us," said Snyder. "It forced us to make some critical mistakes, in terms of penalties. We’re hurting ourselves. We have some leverage issues at DB, letting receivers inside when we shouldn’t let them inside. Chase Clement went to his go-to guys. They put up 14 quick [points] on us, then all of a sudden we have to play catch-up offense. We certainly don’t run a catch-up offense.”
The Rice offense came alive in the second half. The Owls retook the lead quickly in third quarter, moving 77-yards in just over two minutes as Clement found Dillard for a 27-yard touchdown over the middle. Clement then found Toren Dixon for a five yard touchdown with 5:54 remaining in the quarter to give Rice a two score lead. But the Herd came right back, as Marshall was able to move the ball deep into Owl territory on its next possession. Craig Ratanamorn booted a 36-yard field goal to cut the score to 21-10, but that would be the last gasp of the game for the Marshall offense.
Clement once again stepped in to kill the Herd's momentum as he hit Smiter down the sideline on a 44-yard bomb to move the score to 28-10. The Owl gunslinger later capped off his performance with his fourth touchdown pass night and second to Dillard.
“That’s not acceptable," said Snyder of the poor passing game, a trend over the last three games that were dropped. "We needed to throw the ball better. The one that sticks out in my mind is Lee Smith wide open in the end zone and that’s just unacceptable. I know that more than anybody.”
Rice out-gained Marshall by 456 total yards to just 268 for the Herd, although MU won the ground battle with 185 yards rushing. Darius Passmore caught one pass for 14 yards, but rushed three times for 27 more. Chubb Small gained 14 yards on the ground, and caught two passes for 11 yards more. Besides rushing for 118 yards, D. Marshall also returned four kickoffs for 62 yards, an average of just 15.5 as Rice pooched its kickoff many times during the game.
Snyder reflected on the season that had started with such promise at 3-1 overall and 2-0 in C-USA before the Herd lost six of its last seven games, the fourth losing season under the fourth-year head coach. “We went out of conference and played some very good football teams and we may have lost a little confidence. We got beat [in those games] and got beat by UAB," said Snyder of the upset and first loss to the Blazers at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
"We bounced back against Houston. We played a very emotional game against East Carolina. We had some critical mistakes last week. We played a very good offense today and some very critical mistakes again, but you can’t do that against this offense."
Snyder and the Herd will return to Huntington's Joan C. Edwards Stadium for Senior Day for MU's 14 seniors. The opponent is another one of those high-flying offenses, and this time Tulsa is playing for first place in the West Division. “We signed up to play 12 games," said Snyder. "It’s the last game for our seniors. Our guys have a chance to make a statement against a very good Tulsa football team. This game is for the seniors.” The game is part of a doubleheader with men's basketball, who tip against Old Dominion at 11:30 a.m., while football kicks at 3:30 p.m. this coming Saturday.