HOUSTON - The funny thing about Marshall's upcoming trip to the Military Bowl is this: The Dec. 27 game in Annapolis, Md., could be warmer than it was Saturday near the Gulf Coast.Or the Thundering Herd could be hit by a nor'easter.Whatever the case, Marshall accepted the Military Bowl bid after its 41-24 loss to Rice. In the Conference USA championship game. The Military Bowl kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, with Marshall playing an Atlantic Coast Conference team to be named tonight.Rice accepted a Liberty Bowl bid on its home field Saturday, immediately after hoisting the championship trophy.Marshall will play in its 11th bowl game, the first since 2011 and third since 2004. The Herd is 7-3 in bowls, winning its last two - the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and the 2011 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.Tickets will be available through Herdzone.com, and will be $77 in the lower level of Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.The average high temperature in Annapolis in December is 45 degrees, a full 10 degrees warmer than it was Saturday in Houston.nn
The 35 degrees at kickoff represented the lowest temperature in C-USA title-game history, 11 degrees lower than the 2008 game at Tulsa.The average December high for Houston is 66 degrees. In fact, the high Saturday was expected to set a record for the city's lowest high temp on Dec. 7.nn
Whatever game plans the Herd had were foiled at every turn. Even the "Radar" wrinkle on defense and the "Cheese" formation on offense were short-circuited.Marshall first introduced the "Radar" concept, a random-looking shift of linemen and linebackers, two months ago against Texas-San Antonio. The Roadrunners were clearly befuddled by that wrinkle.Nothing confused the Rice offense.
"We had a great plan for it going in," said Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue. "That's also a credit to our offensive line and [center] Nate Richards. It's a smart group of guys.
"We understood, regardless of where they moved, who their five guys were, and the backs they were responsible for. We busted them on it the two times they ran it."Marshall scored on the "Cheese" formation in the second quarter, with Devon Johnson scoring on a 1-yard plunge. But it failed in the Herd's last real gasp, when it needed a yard on fourth down at its 38.nn
Marshall was down 34-17 at that time, and had some momentum after scoring on Rakeem Cato's 7-yard pass to Essray Taliaferro with 11:02 left. But the question begged, with the Herd down 18 points after the scoring: Why not go for a 2-point conversion?Three times eight equals 24, which was Marshall's deficit before the TD. But the Herd settled for one, which gave it no chance to get within two scores."There's a time that you need to go for two, and early on [in the fourth quarter], we didn't absolutely," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "We felt like we had a shot of getting the onside kick at the end, and didn't get it, unfortunately."
There was another curious move. The Taliaferro TD was followed by a personal foul, which had Marshall kicking off at the 50-yard line. No onside kick there.The Herd tried its onside kick with 5:35 left after Cato's TD pass to Devon "Moo Moo" Smith. And after Holliday went for the single extra point to trail by 17. Again.nn
Speaking of Smith, he shied away from catching a few punts and the Herd paid for it dearly in field position.MU's last three possessions started inside the 10-yard line, thanks to three punts that were allowed to roll. The Herd started on its 7-, 8- and 8-yard line, the latter more or less forcing a kneel-down with 14 seconds left.Even Jame Farrimond's first punt of the third quarter was downed at the 17, a 56-yarder helped by failure to field the ball on the fly.Between that and no forced turnovers, Marshall never started a drive beyond its 35-yard line. Nine times it started from its 25 or inside.nn
Game MVP Luke Turner's quarterback rating is likely the highest in the FBS, unless you account for that pesky minimum-attempts requirement.With the halfback-option TD pass of 35 yards and his 8-yard jump pass TD out of the Wildcat formation, he is 3 of 4 passing this season for 100 yards and three touchdowns. That translates to a 532.5 NCAA rating."Oh, my gosh, that would be phenomenal," said McHargue, who entered with a humble 123.98. "He was kidding about it. They came off the field after the [first] touchdown and I was getting joking high-fives from guys saying, 'great job,' because I was on the sidelines for the last six plays."I said, 'You can stay in this package for the rest of the game if you score like this.' "BrieflyCato's two fourth-quarter TD passes extended his streak of games with at least one to 31 games.Officially, the 17,635 at Tulsa last year remains the lowest gate for a C-USA title game. The "tickets distributed" figure announced at Rice was 20,247. No word on whether the comma was misplaced, but the student section raised a respectable ruckus.
Hey, the school only has 3,000-plus undergraduates. "I'm not sure every student wasn't there today," joked Rice coach David Bailiff.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.