HUNTINGTON — On the surface, Marshall’s football team is 7-0 without being greatly challenged throughout the 2020 season.
The Herd’s average margin of victory is 22 points, which puts them at No. 9 in FBS in that category. That number has increased to 26.7 in its last three games.
It has not been as easy as Marshall has made it seem in the final score however.
While the Herd has won comfortably, there has been a number of key plays to turn tightly contested battles into blowouts.
“You’ve got to be able to make some plays,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
Such was the case again last week when Marshall got a critical turnover late in the first half and turned it into a touchdown. In the span of three minutes, Marshall went to being tied at 7 in a dogfight with Middle Tennessee to being up 21-7 at the half.
And Marshall cemented its 42-14 win over the Blue Raiders by finishing out the second half strong on both sides of the ball as well.
In the fourth quarter, Middle Tennessee ran just four offensive plays as Marshall used its offense to salt the game away with a 28-point advantage.
In all, Marshall had possession of the ball for 13:54 of the final 15 minutes of action.
“That’s a great tribute to our strength program,” Holliday said. “The entire year, for seven straight games, in the fourth quarter and the second half, we’ve finished strong and dominated the game at times.”
All season, Holliday has preached one central thought to his players: finish.
The Herd has responded in kind, treating each half like its own game and finishing each well.
While the Herd has proven stronger in the second half to finish games out, there have also been plenty of key moments in first halves that changed the complexion of several games.
Near the end of the first half in five of Marshall’s games, there have been pivotal moments that either shifted momentum to or further cemented the Herd’s advantage.
Before the three-minute surge to end last week’s win over Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders had executed better.
However, the Herd got key plays on each side of the ball — a deep ball from Grant Wells to Willie Johnson to set up a score and a strip-sack from Darius Hodge — to turn a tie game into a 21-7 halftime lead.
As has been the case throughout much of the season, many of those instances have come from the defense.
“The best way to get off the field is to create a turnover,” Marshall safety Nazeeh Johnson said.
Looking back on the season, two games in particular stand out as times when Marshall’s defense made game-winning plays just before halftime that stemmed momentum.
In the Herd’s 17-7 win over then-No. 23 Appalachian State, Marshall’s Steven Gilmore made an interception just before the end of the first half with the Mountaineers in the red zone, eliminating a scoring opportunity and keeping the Herd in front going to the locker room.
On the road at Louisiana Tech also, Marshall led 14-3, but the Bulldogs were on the goal line looking to cut the lead to one possession while they would be getting the ball to start the second half as well.
However, the Herd defense got a pair of stops at the 1-yard line to preserve the two-score lead before earning a 35-17 win.
The Herd also forced a turnover late in the first half of the win at Western Kentucky that led to a scenario much like Saturday when the team scored twice in a matter of two minutes to extend a halftime advantage.
Marshall does not know yet when its next game will be — either the currently scheduled affair for Dec. 5 or possibly a revised schedule that could have the Herd playing next weekend.
No matter when that game is, the goal for Marshall’s staff is to continue its trend of making the biggest plays in the biggest moments.