RUSTON, Louisiana — Okay, let’s be honest.
In terms of adversity, Marshall’s football team has not faced much this season.
The Thundering Herd is 4-0 and has not yet trailed in a game this season and has an average margin of victory of nearly 28 points per game while winning all four by double-digits.
On Saturday, however, Marshall did face a gut-check moment just before halftime in its first-ever trip to Joe Aillet Stadium as a member of Conference USA.
Marshall led 14-3, but the Bulldogs were threatening to cut the lead to one score at the break while receiving the second-half kickoff. As has been the case on several occasions this season, the Marshall defense came up with two big plays.
First, Marshall’s Tavante Beckett got a stop on an airborne Justin Henderson as the Bulldogs went hurry-up with under 20 seconds left in the half. That stop was key because it forced the Bulldogs to use their final timeout with six seconds left and it forced Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz into a decision.
Holtz decided to give it to Henderson again and linebacker Eli Neal got penetration to stop momentum before defensive lineman Jamare Edwards and linebacker Abraham Beauplan stuffed Henderson short, preserving the 11-point lead as the teams went to the locker room.
“That was a big momentum shift,” Neal said. “That’s what we needed, too.”
Instead of it being a one-possession game at the break (whether field goal or touchdown scored), the Herd took a two-score lead in and kept its momentum.
Holtz discussed the decision following the game.
“We talked about going to our full-house backfield but we felt like that play gave our 220-pound back an opportunity to get moving downhill,” Holtz said. “Had it been further away, we would’ve had more options. But I trusted my offensive line and our running back to get a half-yard.”
Getting a half-yard wasn’t something the Louisiana Tech rushing attack did well on Saturday. In all, the Bulldogs rushed for seven yards, which was the third-lowest total in the last 20 years for Louisiana Tech. It also continued a trend of success for Marshall’s run defense of four straight games of keeping the opposition under 100 yards rushing.
SACK ATTACK: Marshall’s defense got to Louisiana Tech early and often, starting with the first play when defensive end Darius Hodge got pressure and hit Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke Anthony’s arm, which forced a wobbly throw that Neal intercepted.
In all, the Marshall defense registered six sacks, which equaled their total output from the first three games. Louisiana Tech’s six sacks allowed were the most since allowing six to Tulsa in the 2013 season.
POSSESSION IS NINE-TENTHS: Marshall dominated the time of possession on Saturday, holding the ball for 35:31 — over 10 minutes more than Louisiana Tech.
That included a stretch to start the game when Marshall ran 21 of the first 22 offensive plays, thanks to Neal’s interception on the first offensive play for the Bulldogs.
For the season, Marshall is averaging possession for 34:08 of 60 minutes, meaning they have the ball an additional eight minutes over their opponents.
ALL THAT NEGATIVITY: With Marshall having scored first in all three games coming in, Louisiana Tech knew it needed a fast start against the Herd. Yet that was not meant to be.
The Bulldogs ran just five total plays in the first quarter for minus-9 yards.
ALL IS WELLS: On Saturday, Marshall quarterback Grant Wells got stronger as the game went on.
After an opening drive that featured three incompletions (two drops) in the passing game, Wells completed 16 of his final 18 throws. That includes a 13-of-16 performance on third down which kept the Herd moving.
RICHARDSON MAKES START: Marshall went to a set with two tight ends to start the game.
With Garet Morrell out on Saturday, that enabled Amir Richardson, an in-state product from University High School in Morgantown, to make his first career start.