marshall football

Marshall wide receiver Willie Johnson (1) outpaces Rice defenders for a long gain during the first quarter.

HOUSTON — Marshall’s last trip to Rice Stadium left the Herd short of its goals of a Conference USA Championship when Rice topped the Herd in 2013.

This time around, the Herd made sure those goals stayed intact as the final month of the regular season gets started.

Marshall used a strong first-half effort by Isaiah Green and never looked back, earning a 20-7 win over Rice in front of an announced crowd of 17,385 fans at Rice Stadium.

“I thought defensively we played tremendous and offensively we had zero turnovers again, which anytime we can not turn the ball over we have a chance to win with the way our defense is playing,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “I’m proud of our players. It’s hard to come into Texas and get a win.”

Green finished the contest 17 of 22 for 269 yards and one touchdown while running back Brenden Knox rushed for 130 yards and a score to lead Marshall (6-3, 4-1 C-USA) on Saturday.

Marshall won its fourth straight game and becomes bowl eligible as it heads into its off week.

Marshall was able to sustain possession against the Owls on several occasions — a factor on which Holliday spoke coming into the week to keep the defense fresh.

Rice likes to be methodical with its attack, but the Herd countered with its own ability to slow the pace down, utilizing the arm of Green and a strong third-down rate to keep the Rice offense off the field.

Through three quarters, the Owls ran just 37 plays, which contributed to the Herd’s success.

Much of that was on a defense that kept the Owls in check throughout the day. Rice averaged just 4.1 yards per play and completed just 44 percent of its passes.

“Our coaches called the right calls and we just had to execute the game plan,” Marshall safety Nazeeh Johnson said. “For us to execute the game plan and hold them to seven points, that team has put up numbers every game. They’re a really good team. Their record [0-9 overall, 05 C-USA] doesn’t show it, but they’re a really good team.”

In addition to the defensive effort, Marshall’s offense also finished 8 of 15 on third-down attempts, including a 6-of-8 effort in the first half as they jumped out to a two-score lead.

That 17-7 halftime lead was bolstered by a long drive that led to a touchdown just before the end of the first half.

The Herd took over at its own 5-yard line with 6:39 left before halftime, but methodically moved down-field behind the legs of Knox and the arm of Green.

Green capped the 13-play, 95-yard drive when he connected with Talik Keaton on a corner route for a 19-yard touchdown on a long third-down conversion. The play was bolstered by a big blitz pick-up by Knox.

Keaton’s first career touchdown reception capped what was one of Green’s best halves throwing in a Marshall uniform.

Coming into the game, Green averaged just under 201 yards passing per game this season. However, the sophomore was 12 of 13 for 229 yards in the first half.

“He’s getting better and better as a quarterback, and what he’s doing is he’s taking care of the ball,” Holliday said.

Under Green’s guidance, Marshall’s offense has just one turnover in its last four games — all victories.

One of Green’s throws came in the game’s biggest moment to put the Herd up for good.

Rice took a 7-3 lead on a 2-yard scoring pass from JoVoni Johnson to Austin Trammell, but Green quickly turned that around.

On the subsequent drive’s first offensive play, Green sidestepped a blitz and fired deep to Xavier Gaines for a 63-yard completion that set up Knox’s 1-yard touchdown run.

“That was critical,” Holliday said. “He answered right back.”

It was one of three pass plays of 35 yards or more for Green in the first half.

Green said his first-half success was predicated on patience.

“I just took what the defense gave us,” Green said. “The O-line did a great job of giving me good protection.”

Again, it was the play of Marshall’s tight ends that propelled the passing attack. Armani Levias caught seven passes for 96 yards while Gaines had a pair of receptions for 74 yards.

Johnson, a true freshman, was making his first appearance for the Owls, and performed well in the first half, completing 8 of 9 passes, including the touchdown to Trammell.

Johnson finished 10 of 17 for 97 yards while also rushing for 65 yards before being knocked out of the contest in the fourth quarter.

Marshall’s next contest will be on Nov. 15 when the Herd hosts Louisiana Tech in a Friday night matchup at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.