HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Take your pick: Marshall’s 31-7 win over Florida Atlantic was a domination by the home team’s defense or a dark comedy of errors by the visitors.
As is usually the case, it was a healthy dose of both.
In what may have been a Conference USA East Division elimination game, the Thundering Herd forced five turnovers, held FAU star Devin Singletary to 39 rushing yards and dominated in field position. The Owls started nine drives at its 20-yard line or deeper.
Offensively, the Herd (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) ran for 233 yards, with Tyler King piling up 125 before his fourth-quarter injury. His status is uncertain, as MU coach Doc Holliday generally doesn’t comment on injuries.
But Holliday had plenty to say about his team’s effort, a welcome result heading into a bye week.
“I said last week [after a 42-20 win over Old Dominion] it was the most complete game to date, and this topped that one,” he said.
“Team played with great energy. Any time you can create five turnovers and don’t turn the ball over at all, you’ve got a great shot at winning that game.
“I thought our defense was tremendous. Singletary is a tremendous back and I think we held him to less than 50 yards rushing. If you can do that, you’ve got a chance against these guys.”
On the other hand, FAU (3-4, 1-2) seemingly didn’t miss an opportunity to mess up. Vladimir Rivas missed two field goals, Chris Robison threw four interceptions, the Owls committed eight painful penalties and missed three of its four fourth-down attempts — one at their own 13-yard line.
Yes, that’s right. Lane Kiffin, ever the riverboat gambler, went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 13 with the Herd winning 17-7 midway through the third quarter. Kerrith Whyte was stopped for no gain, and Marshall took over and scored on the next play to lead 24-7.
There was still 6:18 left in the third quarter, but the game essentially ended at that point. With five turnovers and seven three-and-outs, the Owls weren’t coming back on this Saturday.
“That’s all analytics,” Kiffin said. “Everything we do is by the book; we’ve got an extensive book. If it’s fourth-and-2, you don’t, if it’s fourth-and-1 [you do]. I know that sounds crazy to you guys, but you can punt that ball into the wind for 30 yards; there ain’t a whole lot of difference.
“We needed a spark and weren’t playing really well on offense. We’ve done a lot of that over the last two years. You have belief in your offense, and a lot of times it works. Today, it didn’t.”
The Owls began their day of woe after partially blocking a Justin Rohrwasser field goal in the first quarter. Singletary reeled off a 46-yard run, but it was called back on an illegal block by receiver Willie Wright.
But the Owls did take a 7-3 lead on Chris Robison’s 2-yard pass to Harrison Bryan, capping an 82-yard drive. MU fired back with Alex Thomson’s 29-yard pass to Armani Levias to take a 10-7 halftime lead.
FAU started the second half even worse, flubbing a wide-open double-reverse pass back to Robison before a pass to Singletary went off his hands to tackle Malik Thompson at the Owls’ 27. Thompson caught the ball near at sideline, a long way from his position.
“I saw Singletary go out for a pass and I saw nobody was on him, so I sprinted as hard as I could after him,” Thompson said.
Two plays later, King scored from 17 yards to make it 17-7. That set up FAU’s second missed field goal, Kiffin’s gamble and a long trip back to Boca Raton.
“I think they limited explosive plays today,” Kiffin said. “They stopped the run. We hurt ourselves, too. We had a long run early and it ends up being a 60-yard penalty. I don’t think the guy was going to make a play on the ball, but Willie kind of tripped and came in low.
“You can’t give good teams momentum like that.”
NOTES: Following his usual protocol, Holliday did not comment on King’s injury. … FAU punt returner Dante Cousart suffered a major leg injury, and Kiffin said he would remain in Huntington, even having surgery here. … Marshall was without its top defender, middle linebacker Chase Hancock, and running back Anthony Anderson. MU didn’t have Anderson, but did have Keion Davis back in the backfield … FAU was in its first game without star linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. … Stat-wise, Robison went 18 of 35 for 223 yards, while Thomson is 13 of 24 for 102. Thomson also ran for a net 50 yards on 16 carries, which included three sacks. … Marshall punted 10 times, FAU seven, and FAU outgained the Herd 359-335.