CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- TRIVIA QUESTIONS for Marshall fans, who should have breathed easier after their team sprayed gasoline on the Southern Mississippi dumpster fire:(a) The Thundering Herd has scored an unthinkable 120 points over two consecutive games against the once-proud Golden Eagles. Who was the last MU opponent so victimized?(b) The Herd scored 110 points over the last two games, though it has only a split to show for it. When was the last time the offense was so proficient, and against what teams?(c) When was the last time a Marshall team faced just nine third downs in a game?
Leftovers from Marshall's biggest whipping of a conference opponent in 14 years:This Herd defense needs Gary Thompson, and needs him to be active. And play smart.
Thompson, who started at Middle Tennessee the previous week but didn't do much, had two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and two tackles - both for loss - against Southern Miss. One was a 9-yard sack of quarterback Nick Mullens, but the other tackle may have been more telling - on the last play of the third quarter, he buried receiver Tyre'oune Holmes for a 9-yard loss on a reverse.Southern Miss players and coaches probably had watched the freshman Thompson get sucked in on a 29-yard reverse by Texas-San Antonio. This time, Thompson stayed home and devoured Holmes."He's taken coaching; he's a smart kid," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "He's doing now what he's coached to do. That was a big play for us; that was a critical minus-yardage stop, and he did a nice job staying home on that deal."
Essray Taliaferro has been Marshall's best running back all season, but he suffered another fumble he'd as soon forget. He was headed for a 61-yard touchdown run that was cut to 55 - and resulted in a touchback.
Taliaferro appeared to be carrying the ball properly, but it wasn't snug enough. USM's Emmanuel Johnson caught up to the senior and punched the ball away volleyball-style. Taliaferro described how the rest of the play went in slow motion, as Johnson had him on the ground and the ball rolled out of the end zone."I didn't feel him," Taliaferro said. "Normally when you are running, you don't look back but you can feel the pressure coming up on you. It never happened to me before."Speaking of fumbles, Rakeem Cato's sometime-scary ball-handling bit him, resulting in a fumble that took a few crazy bounces - and resulted in a game-ending injury to left tackle Garrett Scott. Cato admitted he needs work in this department.
"Tuck the ball. Coach has been telling me since day one to hold the ball, tuck the ball," he said. "I've got to do a better job of that. It's just an instant - I'm not trying to do it on purpose or anything, that's an instant, a bad habit from growing up. I have to find a way to get rid of that."
Holliday's word on enigmatic running back Steward Butler, who made his first appearance in three games: "He is [getting back into good graces]. He's taking care of the football and ... Butler will be fine. Butler will be fine."In one of the all-time misleading statistics, Marshall ran just 64 plays to Southern Miss' 81. It happens when five of the nine scoring drives take a combined 2:59. The Herd spent an economical 22:36 with the ball, scoring 2.7 points per minute.
Another way to think of it: With 636 total yards, the Herd offense averaged 9.9 yards per play, 28.14 yards per minute. The Herd picked up a first down every 2.21 plays, finishing with 29 total. And defensively, consider this: The Herd had 11 tackles for loss, held three runs to no gain and Nick Mullens had 23 incompletions and one interception. Add those up and they're 47 percent of USM's 81 plays.There was an XFL moment right before the opening kick, as a cameraman crawled with a foot of Amareto Curraj for the perfect shot of the Herd kicker putting the ball on the tee. Curraj should have booted the ball into the camera, for giggles.On the dark side of this result, the Hattiesburg American's headline read simply: "A new low." As the newspaper pointed out, those 61 points were the most Southern Miss has given up since Oct. 3, 1987, when Louisville wailed on the Eagles, 65-6.
(Take triple extra credit if you identify that as Louisville's game before Marshall upended the Cardinals on the last-play "Hail Mary" pass from Tony Petersen to Keith Baxter.)And with that, we close the book on Southern Miss. Next up for the Herd: the frisky-but-2-6 Blazers of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, at noon Saturday.nn
The trivia answers:(a) 127 against Morehead State in 1993 (56-0) and 1994 (71-7). Virginia Military was close with 113 in 1990 (52-7) and 1991 (62-0).That 1994 Morehead game, which included a controversial MU fake field goal late, was the last time the Eagles played the Herd. As you may know, that program is non-scholarship and a member of the Pioneer Football League - and owns a loss to Pikeville this year.(b) Trick question. The Herd ended 2012 with 59 points over East Carolina (a loss) and started 2013 with 52 against Miami (Ohio).(c) The 2007 season finale against UAB. The Herd went 5 of 9 on third downs in its 46-39 victory, a great ending to a wretched 3-9 campaign. In his final act as MU quarterback, Bernard Morris drove the team 78 yards on 11 plays for the go-ahead score, never facing a third down.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.