Marshall's Aaron Dobson tries to make a one-handed grab against Southern Mississippi.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Southern Mississippi wore uniforms that were 1970 replicas, but Marshall played the real throwback game - it played as if it were 1999.Or 2001. Or 2002. You get the picture.Rakeem Cato threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and Kevin Grooms rushed for 119 yards and two scores as the Thundering Herd firebombed the winless Golden Eagles 59-24. A crowd of 24,903 attended, most fleeing M.M. Roberts Stadium well before the game's end.They couldn't be blamed: Marshall (3-4, 2-1) snapped Southern Miss' 18-year streak of winning seasons by inflicting the Eagles' worst-ever loss in 17 seasons of Conference USA games. The Herd racked up 629 total yards and forced three turnovers - the Herd's first multiple-takeaway game of the season.
The Golden Eagles (0-7, 0-3) mustered just 331 total yards and were nearly shut out in the second half by one of America's most statistically challenged defenses.The Eagles used three different quarterbacks with mostly unsuccessful results. Starter Anthony Alford was 9 of 21 for 65 yards and was sacked three times - the Herd's first multi-sack game of the year.The Herd took a 31-17 halftime lead and turned it up in the third quarter, driving for touchdowns on its first two possessions without facing third down. Tommy Shuler caught his second TD pass of the game, Grooms scored from the 11 and Armonze Daniel recovered a fumble in the end zone to kill a Southern Miss drive."That's a great team win," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "I thought that's the first time this year we've had a total team effort - I though special teams were tremendous, I thought the defense played their tails off and the offense, except for one time, moved the ball and didn't turn it over."Marshall outgained Southern Miss 374-156 in taking the 31-17 halftime lead, but it wasn't always pretty.
The Herd's first possession lasted 12 plays, but field-goal kicker Justin Haig hit the left upright from 21 yards. Haig did hit a 44-yarder on MU's next drive, and Southern Miss' Corey Acosta answered with a 51-yarder that bounced off the crossbar and sneaked over.Marshall took a 10-3 lead on a Remi Watson 3-yard run, an advantage that stood up over the final 45 minutes. Alford had his biggest miscue of a difficult evening, getting a snap bounced off his facemask while he wasn't looking. Jermaine Holmes recovered at the Southern Miss 29, and Antavious Wilson caught a 14-yard TD pass to make it 17-3.Momentarily, the Herd tried to pull Southern Miss back into the game, as Cato's high throw to Andre Snipes-Booker bounced off his fingertips and was picked off by Kalan Reed, who had an easy 19 yards to the end zone. The teams traded long TD runs on the next two possessions - Grooms on a 64-yarder in which he zoomed by defenders with good angles, and then Desmond Johnson on a 22-yarder at the end of an 85-yard drive for Southern Miss.That was the last time Southern Miss got within a score. Shuler, who had 11 catches for 111 yards, caught a 25-yard scoring pass with 3:46 left in the half to make it 31-17.
Southern Miss had the ball to start the second half, but was forced into two straight three-and-outs, both followed by Herd touchdowns.
"I saw a defense out there tonight who was running well, just swarming extremely hard to the ball," Holliday said. "And guys were just making plays. I think, too, you see a defense starting to settle in a little bit, and now they've gotten some games under their belt. The Doms [Dominick LeGrande] and the O [Okechukwu Okoroha] and the D.J. Hunters and all those guys, for the first time, are feeling comfortable with what they're doing."BrieflyDefensive tackle Jarquez Samuel did not make the trip, while fellow tackle Ken Smith and linebacker Billy Mitchell did. Both Smith and Mitchell had long-term injuries - Smith suffered a torn meniscus and Mitchell had concussion issues.
True freshman Cam Dees entered the game at center, giving him his first snaps with the game on the line at that spot. He played guard extensively against Western Carolina. Holliday expects Samuel to play next week against Central Florida.When Steward Butler ran 54 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, it was the Herd's 16th rushing TD of the year - as many as the 2010 and 2011 teams had combined. Essray Taliaferro added a 17th rushing score later in the period.
Another hyper-scoring stat: Marshall already has 39 touchdowns by any method this season, more than the 31 it scored in 13 games last year and the 29 it scored in 12 games in 2010.
With his 11 receptions, Shuler now has 69, the most receptions since Josh Davis' 81 in 2004.Tackle Brandon Sparrow had two of the Herd's three sacks, both in the first half.By the end of the first quarter, Wilson hit the 2,000-yard mark for his career. He now has 2,014, putting him 12th on MU's all-time list. Sean Doctor (1987-88) is 11th with 2,100.Reed's "pick-six" was the sixth non-offensive touchdown Marshall has yielded.The Eagles are now one of just two winless teams in the major-college ranks. Massachusetts fell to 0-7, while Eastern Michigan broke into the win column Saturday.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.