HUNTINGTON — Maybe we were a little spoiled.
After Marshall University posted one, two, three, four impressive victories in a row, well, it sort of became expected.
That’s why the Thundering Herd faithful were a bit taken aback by Marshall’s often-ugly 20-9 win over Florida Atlantic Saturday in front of 12,002 fans in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Were the fans worried? Not really.
Perhaps disconcerted would be a better word, and they had a right to feel that way. Marshall never was in actual danger of losing the game, but the Herd did trail for the first time all season. That’s right, MU actually was behind on the scoreboard.
With 8:12 remaining in the third quarter, FAU place-kicker Vladimir Rivas drilled a 43-yard field goal to give the Owls a 9-7 lead.
Did it make everyone on the Marshall sideline start wringing their hands? Uh, no. On the contrary, it actually put a smile on veteran coach Doc Holliday’s face.
“The first four games weren’t close,” said Holliday during a post-game Zoom conference. “This is the first time we have faced adversity. And the way they handled it made me proud of them as a coach.”
It did indeed speak volumes.
Just 1:48 — 108 seconds — after falling behind on the scoreboard for the first time in the 2020 season, Marshall answered in a big way, with quarterback Grant Wells hitting slot receiver Artie Henry with a 41-yard strike in the end zone. That gave the Herd a lead it never lost.
Did Marshall blow out FAU? Was Marshall as impressive as it had been in the previous four games? Was this a great performance? No, no and no.
But it still was a win over a talented team that played better than anyone expected.
“Don’t think that FAU isn’t a good football team,” said Holliday adamantly. “It was like a first game again for us. But at the end of the day, we did what we had to do win. We made plays when we had to.”
Indeed, the Herd did.
The defense clamped down on the Owls, holding them to only 86 yards rushing and just 3.5 yards per play.
“The defense played lights out again,” said Holliday. “When you can hold a team to nine points and you hold a team under 100 yards rushing … the way our defense is playing, we always have a shot at winning.”
Even in this relatively low-scoring game, the defense proved that again. But the offense? That was a slightly different story.
“Offensively, we’ve got to throw the ball better,” said Holliday. “When they stack the box, we’ve got to find a way to throw the ball.”
He was referring to an up-and-down performance by Wells. The redshirt freshman was 18 of 31 for 251 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed two interceptions.
Yet, Holliday wasn’t actually second-guessing his quarterback.
“If you’re going to be a great quarterback,” said MU’s head coach, “you’d better have a short memory. Grant has that.”
What Wells also has is the veteran presence of junior running back Brenden Knox.
“Every week isn’t going to be a blowout,” said Knox, who finished with 101 yards rushing on 25 carries. “This is a man’s game. You have to stay the course.”
That’s what Marshall did Saturday. It wasn’t flashy. And at times, it wasn’t pretty. But MU did indeed stay the course.
Should the score have been this close? Probably not.
“Today was a little closer than it should have been,” said standout linebacker Tavante Beckett.
Yes, it was. But perhaps, Holliday put it in the proper perspective.
“During a season,” he said, “if you’re going to be a good football team, you have to grind one out. That’s what we did today.”
Indeed, the Herd did. And that’s all that matters.