HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's opposition the past two weeks may not be the greatest in college football, but the Thundering Herd has done its job in making those teams look bad.In the case of the 56-14 win Saturday over Alabama-Birmingham, really, really bad.A week after emasculating Southern Mississippi 61-13, the Herd set several milestones Saturday against the Blazers, such as:Three running backs topped 100 yards, a first in MU history. Steward Butler led the parade with 139 yards, Essray Taliaferro had 118 and Kevin Grooms 108. The combined for four touchdowns and only needed 27 combined carries to do their damage.
Taliaferro became the first Herd player to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games, approaching Darius Marshall's four straight in 2009.Grooms and Butler dialed long-distance a few times - Grooms had a 71-yard touchdown run that gave Marshall a 21-7 lead in the first quarter, Butler ran 61 to set up a touchdown and scored on a 49-yarder.After running for 304 yards against Southern Miss, the Herd romped for 381 yards against the Blazers.The Herd needed just 52 plays and 20 minutes, 59 seconds of possession time to gain its 657 total yards. The average of 12.6 yards per play came very close to that in the 61-0 beat-down of Virginia Military Institute in 1991.
It took only 34 plays to hit the 500-yard mark, and the Herd didn't punt until under the 5-minute mark.With 634 total yards against Southern Miss, the Herd topped 630 two games in a row for the fourth time in school history and second time in two years (most recently 665 vs. Houston and 633 vs. East Carolina in 2012).
Quarterback Rakeem Cato threw a touchdown pass in his 27th consecutive game, topping Chad Pennington's school record of 26, set over the entire 1997 and 1998 seasons. Cato threw for three scores as he went 14 of 20 for 276 yards with no interceptions.
That gave him an ultra-stellar 235.42 NCAA passer rating, even higher than his 212.53 in the Southern Miss game.As a bonus, Cato wasn't sacked for the second straight game. UAB was credited with one quarterback hurry and didn't lay a finger on him, even on his 6-yard TD run."Yes, that's exactly what it is, flag football," Cato said.And finally, the Herd (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) became bowl-eligible with three games remaining, the first time it could say that since 2003. Still tied for first place in the C-USA East Division loss column, this milestone seems trivial.
"I can assure you we didn't have any Gatorade baths, and we weren't dancing in the locker room because we won six games," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "That's what we expect to do around here. Our standards and expectations around here aren't to get bowl-eligible and to win six games, it's to go play for championships."
For the second week in a row, MU won the coin toss and deferred, and the defense delivered a first-possession turnover. Neville Hewitt roared in for a sack of quarterback Jonathan Perry, knocked the ball loose and Brandon Sparrow recovered.The Herd offense started at the UAB 12-yard line, and Taliaferro ran 7 yards on the second play for a 7-0 lead.UAB (2-7, 1-4) tied it for the first and only time, using a 58-yard bomb from Perry to Jamarcus Nelson to set up Darrin Reaves' 2-yard run. Marshall answered with Cato's 39-yard pass to Eric Frohnapfel, Grooms' 71-yard run and Cato's 6-yard toss to Tommy Shuler, making it 28-7.Reaves scored his second touchdown on a 32-yard pass from Perry, and then the Blazers blocked Justin Haig's 38-yard field goal attempt. Sticking with its strong running game of Reaves and Jordan Howard, the Blazers threatened to make it a one-score game.On the seventh play of what would have been a 71-yard drive, Howard rushed for 15 yards to the MU 10, only to have the ball jabbed away by safety Taj Letman. MU's Gary Thompson recovered with 1:36 left in the half.
That was enough time for the Herd to push the lead to 35-14 at the half, especially when Cato hit Gator Hoskins for a 50-yard gain to the UAB 9. Cato threw to Grooms for the rest in his only scramble of the day, ducking two defenders to get to the outside and throw on the run.The Herd took the kickoff to start the second half and drove 79 yards to make it 42-14, with Taliaferro scoring his second TD from 16 yards out. The Herd's final drives covered 94 and 86 yards, ended by Cato's 6-yard run and Butler's 49-yarder."I thought our team went out there and executed the way we need to," Holliday said. "For our second straight week I thought we got off to a fast start and the defense forced a turnover for a score, which was critical. For the most part we played pretty clean."We have a short week and a quick turnaround. We have to put this behind us and start to go to work on Tulsa."That game is Thursday night at 7:30, airing on Fox Sports 1.BRIEFLY: The attendance was announced at 22,321, higher than 20,398 for Southern Miss. The latter figure appeared to be more accurate. ... Running back Remi Watson was out of town attending to a death in the family. Safety A.J. Leggett, foot in a boot, was held out. Wide receiver Devon "Moo Moo" Smith was limited to punt return duty. ... With Haig's blocked field goal, the Herd has surrendered six such plays - two field goals, two extra points and two punts. ... Linebacker Stefan Houston became the second true freshman to start on offense or defense this season, joining safety Tiquan Lang. ... Cato's third TD pass gave him 75 for his career, most among FBS juniors. On the other end of the throws, Shuler has 188 career receptions, which lifts him to seventh on the MU all-time list.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.