HUNTINGTON — In each of the last three weeks, there has been one consistent theme with Marshall’s football team. The Thundering Herd is finding ways to finish off games.
During the team’s three-game winning streak, the game was in the balance late in each. Yet Marshall (5-3 overall, 3-1 Conference USA) made the plays to put itself in position to control its own destiny in C-USA’s East Division.
Marshall visits Rice (0-4, 0-8) in Houston at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Our kids are playing with a lot of confidence,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “They can find a way to win games, regardless. We’ve had a lot of adversity the last couple of weeks and we’ve been able to overcome it.”
There is a strong veteran presence, especially along the offensive front, which has carried the team through those situations. It has almost been uncanny how Marshall’s offense has come through in late-game situations recently. In each win during its current three-game streak, the offense has produced a 10-play drive that has led to the winning or solidifying score late in the game.
Last week against Western Kentucky, Marshall took possession with 1:21 left at its own 13-yard line with the score tied at 23. Instead of being conservative and going to overtime, the Herd offense got chunk plays to move beyond midfield before, perhaps, the most critical play — a 6-yard scramble by quarterback Isaiah Green — to set up the game-winning 53-yard field goal from Justin Rohrwasser.
“People see it as a little thing, but the scramble last week that got us 7 yards took it from a 60-yard field goal — you probably don’t even attempt it — to [having] a shot,” Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said.
What impressed Cramsey more is what Green said about the play in looking at it on film. Green had receiver Broc Thompson open in the middle of the field on the play, but he elected to get yards and get out of bounds to ensure there would be enough time to set up for the field goal.
“To me, that’s moving into what you need to be on the field with him,” Cramsey said of Green. “He’s done a great job in those situations.”
Not to be outdone, Marshall’s defense also had a crucial stand in last week’s win over Western Kentucky that got the ball back to the offense, which then flipped it for the special teams to go win the game.
Tied at 23, Western Kentucky faced third-and-2 at its own 43-yard line. However, Gaej Walker’s rush attempt was stuffed by linebacker Tavante Beckett and defensive tackle Channing Hames in the backfield. That stop came at a time when Western Kentucky had all the momentum, but the Herd defense found a way to bow its back for the stand.
“It’s just about that grit,” Marshall defensive end Marquis Couch said. “It’s wanting to win. No one likes losing so you’ve got to do what you have to do to come out and get a ‘W.’ ”
In the two games prior to the Western Kentucky win, there were many similarities to the drives to earn wins at Florida Atlantic and solidify the Old Dominion victory. Both drives went 10 plays for 77 yards with Brenden Knox capping them on touchdown runs after the offensive line had taken things over.
That’s a trend that started earlier in the season with the Ohio game, another in which the Herd took possession late in the contest and drove 10 plays and 70 yards before a pair of kneel-downs in victory formation to secure that victory.
“If you look back on the season we’ve had, we’ve displayed the ability to go down and end games, whether it be running, passing, four-minute drives, two-minute drives,” Green said. “We’ve done that well.”