CHARLESTON -- THE TASK facing Marshall's offensive line was unmistakable Saturday. As if Purdue's front four needed to look any more menacing, the Boilermakers dressed in all-black uniforms.
It wasn't a special occasion, but those togs had my full attention. On a splendidly sunny Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, 315-pound Kawann Short qualified as a human solar eclipse. Shoot, I couldn't look directly at him.
As expected, Purdue posed the toughest test for the Thundering Herd's improved offensive line so far. The verdict? Marshall lost the game 51-41, but the Herd O-line passed its test.
Those 41 points provide much of the proof. None of those came in mop-up time, and the Herd even had a shot to get within one score with 3:46 left. When Tommy Shuler's attempt at an option pass on the two-point conversion flamed out and the onside kick did no better, Purdue was finally safe.
The stats bode well, too, for the rest of the Conference USA schedule. Marshall favored the pass, as expected, but did average 4.1 yards on 23 rushes. Sacks count against those figures, but Rakeem Cato was brought down just twice for 12 yards in losses.
Cato stayed upright the rest of the time, completing 45 of 68 for a career-high 439 yards. The quick passing and tempo kept the Boilermakers off balance, but there had to be some good blocking along the way.
But not always, as Short and fellow tackle Bruce Gaston occasionally showed the Herd who was boss. Short's three tackles all resulted in a loss, with the third one separating Cato from the ball and nearly causing a late defensive touchdown. Gaston also had three tackles, two going for loss.
Give the Boilermakers credit for picking off passes on three straight possessions and taking two for touchdowns; that sequence turned the game. But that defensive hardly dominated.
Short and Gaston combined for five tackles for loss, but Purdue had just two others. The Herd's 534 total yards is a figure no defensive coordinator could love. (OK, maybe Joe DeForest at West Virginia would like that. Looking at the WVU-Baylor game, 534 yards would be a "Steel Curtain" figure.)
"We started cutting them early," said Herd tight end Gator Hoskins. "That made them slow down a little bit, so then we came off the ball and got a chance to move them around a lot."
All this despite another early injury exit for Garrett Scott. The Herd needs to get him back to consistent good health, but the line has functioned well with Gage Niemeyer filling in at right tackle.
A reasonably healthy line will bode well for the rest of the season. Behind that line, the Herd has scored 41 points in regulation in each of the last two games, and has piled up at least 491 total yards in every game.
Those levels are likely the minimum needed to run with Tulsa, which comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
As Gazette readers know, we compile a "How They Scored" box as part of our game coverage of Marshall and West Virginia games, neatly summarizing every scoring drive.
Every last stinkin' one of them. And if you picked up the print edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail, you saw a section full of scoring drives - 33 in all, 32 touchdowns and one field goal.
We're not going to send our crack research team on it, but that has to be a single-day record.
The two games combined for 225 points, 2,484 total yards, 1,970 yards passing and 123 first downs, wrapped into 361 plays from scrimmage.
OK, so the Baylor-WVU game did much of the heavy lifting, but dang! That's a lot of offense.
When I'm not grumbling about the emasculation of the college football kickoff, I'm mumbling about stupid penalties. Arguably, they're all stupid, but some are more aggravating than others.
Personal fouls are the worst, obviously. Almost all are selfish attempts to punish opponents, cultivate hero status in the locker room or both.
In my world, penalties on kick returns are just as bad. All are avoidable, and most inflict incredible field-position damage.
Finally, any penalty that gives the opposing team a first down is off-the-chart dumb.
In the honorable pursuit of the perfect stat, I am launching the SMH Index, in honor of penalties that make me shake my head. If I like it well enough, I'll track it regularly on my "Inside Marshall Sports" blog.
The point system, subject to fine-tuning: 15 for any personal foul, even offsetting fouls, and 15 for any penalty on your team's kick return. On the latter, give a 10-point bonus for those fouls that pin you inside your 15-yard line, 20 if you're stuck inside your 10.
For all penalties that give the opposition a first down, charge 10 points. Make it 20 if it comes on a third-down play, 50 for a fourth-down infraction. And for extra fun, throw in another 20 if the opposition scores a touchdown in the drive.
So for the Purdue game, Marshall committed the following SMHI fouls:
Safety Dominick LeGrande's personal foul and cornerback Keith Baxter's pass interference foul on third down in the end zone, both leading to Purdue's third touchdown (85 points total).
Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor commits an encroachment foul on second-and-3, but with no further damage (10 points).
Early in the third quarter, the Herd commits an illegal block on a punt return, forcing it to start at the 13-yard line (25 points).
Guard John Bruhin ticketed for a personal foul (15) on offense.
Near the end, Alex Bazzie commits a late hit out of bounds, giving Purdue a first down. The Boilermakers do not score, though (35).
That totals up to 170, which does not look good. But Purdue was hardly blanked.
Short committed an 85-point foul under this system - he was called for a personal foul on fourth-and-12, giving the Herd first down at the Purdue 22. The Herd scored to make it 51-41, and could have made things really interesting if the two-point conversion didn't go awry.
Purdue scored an SMHI of 135, so it "wins" this category. Marshall's got to get that fixed.
And finally, a "salute" to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have gone above and beyond to prove themselves the worst organization in major professional sports.
The Pirates lost their 82nd game Sunday, thus clinching their 20th losing season in a row. Think about it: Few players in the entire system have no concept of the Pirates winning more than losing.
This year, the Bucs did it in style, sliding from 16 games over .500 into the abyss. And then they lose No. 81 by getting no-hit for the first time in 41 years - thus underlining the organization's refusal to cultivate a credible hitting attack.
For our minor-league affilitation, we're still stuck with these guys. Oh, well.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.