HUNTINGTON — Once Marshall got the lead during Friday night’s win over Louisiana Tech, the Herd defense had one simple philosophy.
That philosophy? To stay in front, keep everything in front.
Marshall’s defense limited the Louisiana Tech offense, not allowing a big play en route to its 31-10 win over the Bulldogs at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“I thought our corners did a nice job,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “We didn’t want to give up a big play. I didn’t see that out there (Friday).”
Louisiana Tech’s offense came in as the top-ranked offense in Conference USA, averaging 479.1 yards per game.
Much of that came off the big play and the arm of Bulldogs’ quarterback J’Mar Smith — neither of which were present for Louisiana Tech at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington on Friday night.
Smith was suspended earlier in the week — a move that was announced on Thursday — leaving backup Aaron Allen to run the Bulldogs’ offense.
With Smith and leading receiver Adrian Hardy both out due to suspension, Marshall’s secondary was able to negate any big pass plays from Allen.
The end result was Louisiana Tech having only one play of 20 yards or more in the contest, which goes against their norm.
For the game, the Bulldogs finished with 261 yards on 71 plays, which is less than four yards per play.
Marshall cornerback Steven Gilmore, who had an interception at the goal line for the Herd, said the defensive scheme was the same, no matter who the quarterback may have been — Smith or Allen.
“Nothing really changed for our defense,” Gilmore said of facing Allen instead of Smith. “We just came in with the same mindset — just try to execute our defense and get off on third down.”
Third down was a crucial statistic for the Herd as they limited Louisiana Tech to just six of 17 on third-down opportunities.
Louisiana Tech jumped out to a 7-0 lead after scoring on the second drive of the game behind a Justin Henderson touchdown run. The drive looked easy for the Bulldogs as they mingled in easy passes for Allen with the hard-running nature of Henderson.
However, as the game went on, the sledding became harder for Henderson and company, which provided a boost.
Over the last 54 minutes of game-time, the Bulldogs were limited to a field goal. Henderson was also limited to 87 yards rushing with a long run of 11, which meant no big plays.
“I think sometimes, the kids are so emotional going out there starting that game that things don’t go well early on — you know, because they are over-emotional,” Holliday said. “They settled in.”
For a Louisiana Tech team who is used to getting the big play, this one seemed to have all the big plays go against the Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech came in having converted 36 of 38 red zone opportunities with one failed attempt being a kneel-down to end a game.
However, the Bulldogs were just 2-of-4 against the Herd with Marshall getting a pair of takeaways from the red zone — the Gilmore interception and a fumble recovery by Tavante Beckett after a fourth-down snap sailed over Allen’s head.
“I thought the defense played extremely well and came up with big plays when they had to,” Holliday said.
Looking forward, the effort is big from a momentum standpoint as the team gets set for its final regular-season road test.
Marshall now moves on to face Charlotte, who has seen quarterback Chris Reynolds emerge into one of the league’s most efficient, as well.
It will take another strong performance by the secondary for the Herd to maintain its spot at the top of Conference USA’s East Division.