In a battle meant to solidify and clear blurred lines in the C-USA title picture, the Marshall Thundering Herd silenced all doubt and obliterated Louisiana Tech 31-10 on their senior night in Huntington.
Holding the tiebreakers due to head-to-head victories over both Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky, Marshall now stakes claim to sole leadership in the Conference USA’s East division, clearing the pathway towards a potential repeat grudge match with the Bulldogs in this year’s conference championship.
More commonly known as the “75” game, tonight marked the commemoration of 49 years passed since the infamous Marshall plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 university athletes, coaches, personnel and boosters. Donning their throwback schemed black uniforms on Friday night, the program improved to a perfect 10-0 record in the traditional series since the hiring of head coach Doc Holliday.
In what was and remains an unclear situation out of Ruston, Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz announced the suspensions of star signal-caller J’Mar Smith, as well as leading receiver Adrian Hardy with linebacker James Jackson in what was billed as a violation of athletic department policy. The second best C-USA passer in terms of yardage, Smith’s absence was felt across the board in this game, as Louisiana Tech was forced to ride the heels of its conference leader in rushing touchdowns Justin Henderson in all facets.
Despite a first quarter touchdown scamper and 87 total yards on the ground, Henderson couldn’t shine enough light on a dim performance statistically for his teammates. Backup quarterback Aaron Allen went for 159 yards, but inexperience and inefficiency was evident for the youngster in his first career start. The team as a whole would finish 6 for 17 on third down conversions, averaging just 2.0 yards per carry after averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the season.
After a 28-yard Talik Keaton punt return set the team up at midfield, Marshall would go 52 yards in three plays capped with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Willie Johnson to take a 10-7 lead at the 4:25 mark in the second quarter. A mishandled snap by the punter on the next drive recovered inside LTU’s five, the Herd would quickly punch in a familiar Brenden Knox touchdown to take a permanent hold on the lead and a foot on the throat in terms of momentum.
Isaiah Green continued to exhibit growth in his maturation process as a young quarterback, leading the way with 237 yards and two touchdowns through the air, to go with 24 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Improving to 14-5 as a career starter, minimizing mistakes has been the key to Green’s and more importantly Marshall’s success over recent weeks. Despite throwing an acrobatic interception to Louisiana Tech’s Michael Sam in the third quarter, the redshirt sophomore followed suit on the next possession with a 17-yard keeper that struck pay dirt, giving the Herd a 24-10 lead as the essential nail in the coffin.
Brenden Knox and Obi Obialo would form the ultimate skill position one-two punch for the Herd, with both decisively reaching career marks in the process. Redshirt sophomore Knox reached the 1,000 yard mark for the season in the third quarter, becoming the 17th player at Marshall to do so, finishing his night with 113 yards and two touchdowns. Obialo set career highs in receptions and receiving yards with eight catches for 146 yards, in what was his first appearance in 2019 due to a stress fracture in his foot, after being a solid contributor in the Marshall receiving corps in 2018.
The Thundering Herd (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) look to ride the wave of their fifth straight victory, setting up for a showdown with the still hungry Charlotte 49ers (5-5, 3-3 C-USA) in North Carolina next weekend.
Louisiana Tech (8-2, 5-1 C-USA) has to pick up the pieces of their first loss since August 31, challenging themselves with another road trip to Birmingham next weekend versus UAB (6-3, 3-2 C-USA).