NCAA Football: Marshall at Middle Tennessee

Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green (17) tries to pass against Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders linebacker DQ Thomas (20) and throws an interception Saturday.

HUNTINGTON — Watching the film of Saturday’s loss to Middle Tennessee was excruciating for Marshall’s football players.

One block.

One cut.

One read.

One tackle.

One more bit of focus.

That was the difference between a road win to start conference play and the 24-13 loss that the Thundering Herd was handed by Middle Tennessee on Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

“Definitely, it was a tough loss,” Marshall tight end Armani Levias said. “I feel like we left a lot of things on the table. That’s the great thing about practice. We can correct those mistakes and get better.”

Focus on execution seemed to be the resounding theme among the players as they spoke on an uncanny defeat that many said seemed like a bad dream.

Marshall running back Brenden Knox said the frustrating aspect was that, outside of a handful of plays, the overall body of work that the offense presented was strong.

It makes locking into those four or five difference-making swing plays that much more important.

“I like what we put out on tape, outside of those little mental mistakes and things of that sort,” Knox said. “You know, 600 total yards of offense is I think the best we’ve had this year, so great in that aspect, but we’ve got to execute.”

As players pointed out, too, the offense is taking much of the heat for four turnovers and two turnovers on downs that proved costly, but there were several plays left on the field on the defensive side and in special teams, also.

“In all three phases, we didn’t execute,” Brandon Drayton said. “Special teams, we had a few plays that we watched [Monday] morning that we left out there. Defensively, missed tackles and getting off the field on third down.”

Historically, play in Conference USA has been relatively close, with game margins being kept under double-digits. That means that winning and losing comes down to a handful of plays. Saturday’s matchup was no different, with the overall scope of Marshall’s film being solid. However, a range of 10-to-15 total plays on both sides of the football skewed the rest of the performance and resulted in the loss.

So how does Marshall (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) plan on fixing its issues? By turning negatives to positives.

Marshall players spoke of changing the frustrations of the last two weeks into fuel as they hit practice this week in preparation for Old Dominion (1-4).

“We’ve just got to practice better as a team,” Drayton said. “Fix those little things in practice so it doesn’t show up on Saturdays in a game. Lock in a little better. Everybody — it’s the whole team. We’ve just got to lock in.”

With one loss already in Conference USA, Marshall’s margin of error is now non-existent.

Knox said it is gut-check time for the Herd.

“Just go a little harder,” Knox said. “Any time you think you’re doing enough, just take it a step further. You can probably never go wrong with that.”

With Old Dominion’s slow-down style of play, there will likely be fewer plays than in an average game, which means the Herd’s opportunities to cash in could be limited.

Difficulties like those faced in the last two weeks can often tear a team apart or waver the confidence of a group. Knox said that staying together as a team now is more important than ever.

“You’ve just got to look at the light at the end of the tunnel and just have hope that your guys will pull through and come together,” Knox said.