CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- YOU COULD CALL Marshall's wound-licking football team a lot of things, some not so complimentary.The Thundering Herd may be inconsistent defensively, as was evident in its 51-49 loss last week at Middle Tennessee.The Herd may be prone to questionable coaching decisions, such as those late in the first half when an ultra-conservative strategy backfired into a 21-all tie at halftime - with MTSU getting the ball to start the second half.The Herd may have shaky special teams. More specifically, the Herd may have the most frightening punt team on Earth.
But I promise there is one thing you cannot accuse Marshall of being.Southern Mississippi.It's heartbreaking, really. When the once-very-proud Golden Eagles fly into Joan C. Edwards Stadium at noon Saturday, they will do so with a 19-game losing streak and virtually no chance to keep it from going to 20.After watching the Eagles' 55-14 loss to North Texas at Hattiesburg, I cannot contemplate the possibility of an upset in Huntington. I cannot grant the "any given Saturday" line a shred of credence.Six days away, I smell the strong aroma of bonus tailgating. Last year's 59-24 margin is as good a prediction as any.Yes, I watched the NT-USM game Saturday night. I sacrificed Ohio State-Penn State, Oregon-UCLA and the first six innings of World Series Game 3 to check out the rout at "The Rock." The Eagles remain at rock bottom.First-year coach Todd Monken gave true freshman Nick Mullens his first start at quarterback because ... why not? It's not like fifth-year Allan Bridgford was burning it up.Mullens threw a nice 59-yard touchdown shot to Dominique Sullivan early in the second quarter, but finished 12 of 31 for 210 yards with three interceptions and two lost fumbles. He has to fix all those things freshmen QBs typically need to work on, i.e. throwing too much into tight windows and working on progressions.It would help if he had receivers who could catch, though.The Mean Green, still a West Division contender, overcame that bomb and steamrolled to a 41-7 halftime lead. NT gained 383 of its 529 total yards in that half and went on to record its largest margin of victory since 1958, against Drake.There was nothing Southern Miss did well. Couldn't run, couldn't stop the run, couldn't tackle, couldn't block, couldn't hold the edge, couldn't cover, couldn't maintain confidence. Their offense couldn't keep the ball and their defense couldn't get off the field, leading to a 41:51 to 18:09 deficit in time of possession.
Believe it or not, it was the Eagles' second 55-14 loss in a row (East Carolina rang them up by that score in Greenville). They have yielded 55 or more points four times, but also have lost the games in which they yielded 22 or 24 points.Alas, that included a 22-13 loss to Texas State and a 24-23 loss in the "Pillow Fight" against Florida International. In the latter game, Corey Acosta's last-play field goal was blocked, the fourth of his six consecutive misses.This has been painful to witness.Saturday's game should be one of the most interesting on the Herd's home schedule. Instead the Herd may face the worst league opponent at Edwards Stadium since entering Conference USA in 2005, and the worst in any league since Buffalo's 2002 visit in the Mid-American Conference days.And remember, this Southern Miss program is two seasons removed from a C-USA championship and an end-of-season 20th ranking. It hasn't suffered back-to-back losing seasons since 1933-34, for Pete's sake!Monken is mopping up for the uber-disastrous hiring of Ellis Johnson, who succeeded Larry Fedora and lasted just one year. Fedora shouldn't get off the hook, either - exactly three starters and five reserves from the 2011 C-USA title game showed up on Saturday's participation sheet.
Of the 74 who had played in the first six games this season, 38 are listed as redshirt sophomores or younger, with 14 true freshmen playing. I'm betting those numbers rise next year, as Monken can't help but recruit better players than he has.Improvement can't come soon enough for a team with one of the top four fan bases in the 2014-and-beyond C-USA lineup. And it can't come fast enough for C-USA, which needs its soon-to-be-lone charter member to be one of its strongest.The resurrection can't come soon enough for strength of schedules, as well. Do you realize Marshall likely will own victories over 0-12, 0-12 and 1-11 teams (Southern Miss, Miami of Ohio and FIU)? Not the Herd's fault, but still ...This is really tough to watch. God bless Monken, for he needs much patience.nn
Finally, one observation:If football officials were calling the final play of World Series Game 3, they would have assessed Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks a 15-yard penalty for leg-whipping Cardinals runner Allen Craig.A textbook case of obstruction, first inning or ninth, unless you're an addled Red Sox fan or Skip Bayless. C'mon, people.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.