HERD ZONE MCGILL: Defense, Run Game Keep Herd Perfect on Road

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HERD ZONE MCGILL: Defense, Run Game Keep Herd Perfect on Road
Phoo Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

HerdZone.com

NORFOLK, Va. – Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, Old Dominion's football home, will undergo reconstruction after the season. A mostly new stadium will be built in its place, and the record books for the new venue will be wiped clean.



Marshall's final experience in the Monarchs' old digs was a good one. The Herd's defense is a big reason why. The run game provided a major assist.

The Thundering Herd gave ODU's previously high-powered offense fits and senior running back Anthony Anderson rushed for three touchdowns in a 42-20 win in front of a sellout crowd of 20,118. The victory improved Marshall to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA, while Old Dominion dropped to 1-6 overall and 0-4 in league play.

The Monarchs entered Saturday's matchup with a fearsome offense led by junior quarterback Blake LaRussa and a pair of 6-foot-3, 210-pound weapons at receiver. But the defense of first-year coordinator Adam Fuller stymied LaRussa and ODU, and the home team did not score a touchdown in the opening half for the first time this season.

ODU entered Saturday averaging 476 yards and 39 points in the last three games, which included a two-touchdown upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech on this same field. The Monarchs didn't find the same success against their visitors on a beautiful, fall afternoon here.

The Marshall defense did not allow a touchdown until 3:29 of the third quarter, when LaRussa found one of those big outside targets – Travis Fulgham – in the back-right corner of the end zone to trim the deficit to 21-10. Until then, the Herd D had its way.

ODU came up empty-handed on its first five possessions, three of which ended in punts and two others in turnovers. It wasn't until a field goal in the twilight of the second quarter that the Monarchs managed to find points. Overall, seven of Old Dominion's first eight possessions did not end in points, something that had become commonplace for the Monarchs' offense.

Meanwhile, junior quarterback Alex Thomson rebounded from his FBS debut to lead the Herd to its third road win in three tries this season. He received help from senior receiver Tyre Brady, who again wowed with an array of catches, including his sixth touchdown reception of the season. Brady eclipsed 100 receiving yards for the third time this season and sixth time in two years.

The running game was led by Anderson, who sandwiched Brady's 3-yard touchdown reception with scores from 22 and 4 yards. He added a third rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, also from 4 yards out, to give the Herd a two-touchdown cushion. Brady and Anderson have combined for 12 of Marshall's 21 offensive touchdowns this season.

The game was in doubt until 3:05 left of the fourth quarter. After ODU scored to make it 28-20, Marshall answered with another running back, sophomore Tyler King, who dazzled for 65 yards and a touchdown for a 35-20 lead. The run more than doubled the Herd's longest rush of the season.

Then, King confirmed the result after ODU turned the ball over on downs, and scored his second touchdown of the game with a 46-yard run to boost the score to 42-20. He ended the contest with an impressive 195 yards on the ground.

The expectation might have been a shootout from the outset, but the first quarter resulted in zero points.

Each team had three complete possessions in the opening quarter, with Marshall's ending in a punt, interception and punt. ODU's interception came one play after MU senior linebacker Frankie Hernandez stripped and recovered the ball to give the Herd choice field position at ODU's 18. The Monarchs' standout defender, Oshane Ximines, came up with the interception and returned it 14 yards, shifting the momentum ODU.

The teams exchanged punts, and then the Monarchs put together the most threatening drive of the opening frame. The Monarchs drove to the MU 10 until LaRussa's pass was batted in the air by senior defensive lineman Ryan Bee, and junior safety Malik Gant corralled the ball for his first career interception.

Marshall has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter this season.

The Herd cracked the scoring column early in the second quarter. Thomson connected with sophomore receiver Willie Johnson on a 23-yard pass – Thomson's longest of his career at that point – and then Anderson broke free on the left side for a 22-yard touchdown run. Marshall entered Saturday's game with five rushing TDs on the season, but none longer than 5 yards.

Marshall padded its lead on its next possession, a 10-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Thomson lofting a perfectly placed ball in the back left corner of the end zone that was caught by Brady, who worked his way behind the defender and hauled in the ball while falling on his back. That made the score 14-0, Herd, with 8:33 left of the second quarter.

The MU defense almost blanked the vaunted ODU offense in the first half, but the Monarchs engineered a 14-play, 55-yard drive that culminated with a 30-yard field goal by Nick Rice. Marshall led at the half, 14-3, and limited an ODU offense that had scored in double digits in the first half in five of its first six games. ODU entered Saturday's game averaging 12.8 points in the first half in the first six games of the season, but failed to score a touchdown in the opening two quarters for the first time this season.

Marshall continues Conference USA play next Saturday, Oct. 20, when defending league Florida Atlantic visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Owls are 3-3 overall and 1-1 in C-USA play, and had the Saturday off before traveling to Huntington for the Herd's Homecoming and a matchup of teams picked to finish first and second in the East Division.

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Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a six-time winner of the National Sports Media Association West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award. In addition to HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, McGill is the editor of Thundering Herd Illustrated, Marshall's official athletics publication. Follow him on Twitter (@chuckmcgill) and Instagram (wordontheherd).

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