DENTON, Texas — Marshall’s trip back home from Texas was longer than usual, and that’s saying something.
The Thundering Herd couldn’t get on the plane fast enough Saturday night after falling 38-21 to North Texas, a team a year removed from a 1-11 disaster.
Marshall’s misery in the Lone Star State stretched to 1-9, but that’s not the most painful set of numbers. This is: 1-4, which is how the Herd sits after losing its Conference USA opener.
The Herd laid a Texas-sized egg before 18,126 at Apogee Stadium, giving up a fake punt, a Jeffrey Wilson 72-yard run and any number of opportunities on offense.
“Give North Texas credit, Seth [coach Littrell] has done a great job with that program,” said MU coach Doc Holliday. “But we didn’t play well in any phase. They beat us, just beat us.”
Wilson’s long run with 3:15 left in the third quarter stood up as the winning play. He broke through a big hole and had nobody to catch him after cornerback Rodney Allen pulled up lame.
Wilson finished with 188 yards on 26 carries, with one other TD, a 4-yarder that began the night’s scoring. The Mean Green (3-3, 2-1) outgained the Herd 458-271, 252-13 on the ground, and held the ball more than 36 minutes.
That time of possession wasn’t just a function of NT’s rushing prowess, but of a Marshall offense that couldn’t run and rarely got the passing game in sync. By game’s end, Chase Litton was sacked five times and suffered an interception return for a touchdown.
The Herd stayed in the game until late and tied the game three times, but never led. Marshall trailed 14-7 at the half, and tied it with Keion Davis’ 99-yard return of the second-half kickoff. The Herd also tied it at 21 later in the third quarter, on a 1-yard pass from Litton to Ryan Yurachek.
Between those two scores, the Herd faltered on special teams, allowing NT punter Eric Keena to run 18 yards for a first down. Instead of the Herd getting the ball with a chance to break a 14-all tie, the Mean Green kept possession and eventually scored on Mason Fine’s 11-yard pass to Tyler Wilson.
“We’ve got to play better. We’ve got kids assigned to that, and we didn’t get it done,” Holliday said. “We didn’t coach very well, we didn’t play very well.”
Perhaps the grimmest omen came in the final 31 seconds of the first half, when Amareto Curraj missed two field goals.
Curraj missed from 48 yards with 31 seconds left, then got another chance after MU recovered a fumble. Litton hit Justin Hunt for 20 yards to set Curraj up from 42 yards, but he missed that one, too.
The Mean Green took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for the game’s first score, finishing with Wilson’s 4-yard run. Later in the first quarter, Fine fumbled while being flushed from the pocket, and C.J. Reavis recovered to give MU the ball on the NT 14.
The Herd overcame a false start and a downfield holding penalty to score on Litton’s 6-yard keeper.
North Texas rolled through MU’s defense on its next drive, which carried into the second quarter. After mixing up screen passes with running plays, Fine used a fine ball fake to score on an 8-yard keeper.
Marshall made 6 of 11 third-down conversions, but that was misleading. The Herd managed just 41 yards on 18 carries and Litton was 9 of 21 for 112 yards in the first half. Occasionally, his passes bore no resemblance to receivers’ routes.
North Texas scored twice in the final five minutes to pull away, with Trevor Moore hitting a 31-yard field goal and Eric Jenkins returning an interception 52 yards. It was the third “pick-six” given up by Litton in five games.
Litton finished 20 of 42 for 258 yards. Michael Clark caught eight passes for 122 yards.