Rattled Herd Must Move Past Cincinnati Loss

Updated 2 weeks ago Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The non-conference portion of Marshall's football schedule concluded Saturday night.

It was not the end that Doc Holliday and the Herd wanted – "Obviously, we didn't play very well," Holliday said afterward – but the start of Conference USA play next week offers the team an opportunity to hit the reset button. Marshall, 2-2, was the preseason pick to win the C-USA East Division and play for a conference championship. Saturday's 52-14 loss to Cincinnati in front of 32,192 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium does not obstruct the Herd's path toward that goal.

"We lost as a team," Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green said. "We've got to move on … If we want to achieve our goal of winning a championship, we have to focus on getting better from right now to December."

Marshall opens its eight-game conference slate next Saturday at Middle Tennessee, which fell to 1-3 after a 48-3 loss at No. 14 Iowa this weekend. The Herd will enter that game licking its wounds after Saturday's lopsided result in front of the 13th-largest crowd in stadium history.

Cincinnati (3-1) opened the game with a five-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, a rare first quarter letdown by the Marshall defense. The 13-yard pass from quarterback Desmond Ridder to receiver Rashad Medaris is the first time the Herd allowed a first quarter touchdown this season. The Bearcats weren't done, either.

After a three-and-out by the Marshall offense, Cincinnati put together a 19-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that burned nearly nine minutes of the game clock. UC built its lead to 14-0 when Ridder connected with receiver Alex Pierce for a 17-yard score. The Herd defense had stalled the UC drive on a fourth down, but a personal foul penalty gave the opposition a clean set of downs.

By the end of that drive, UC had run 24 of the game's first 27 plays, and had the ball for 11 minutes and eight seconds compared to Marshall's 59-second possession.

That lead grew to 21 points when Ridder tossed his third touchdown pass of the first half, this one to tight end Josiah Deguara with 8:45 left of the second quarter. Deguara scored again before the end of the half on a quirky play where he picked up a fumble by Ridder at the 2 and walked into the end zone. Ridder was hit on the play, but replay upheld the call on the field that it was a fumble – not an incomplete pass – and the Bearcats took a comfortable lead into intermission.

At halftime, Cincinnati held the advantage in total offense, 300-116. The Bearcats had 206 of that yardage through the air, as Ridder completed 15 of 19 first half passes with almost as many touchdowns (three) as incompletions (four).

The Herd's struggles continued in the second half. Ridder threw his fourth touchdown pass with 8:46 left of the third quarter, a 4-yard lob to tight end Bruno Labelle. Cincinnati held a 35-0 lead at that point, and Ridder took a seat to allow backup quarterback Ben Bryant some time on the field.

The Bearcats built the lead as large as 45-0 before the Marshall offense broke up the shutout. Sophomore running back Sheldon Evans scored on a 13-yard run with 12:35 left of the game, Evans' first career rushing touchdown. After a fumble recovery, junior receiver Willie Johnson scored on a 40-yard run to make it 45-14 with 10:40 left. The run was Marshall's longest this season, the longest run of Johnson's career and his first career rushing touchdown.

Defensively for Marshall, junior safety Nazeeh Johnson and senior linebacker Omari Cobb each established new career highs for tackles with 13 and 11, respectively.

Marshall's game at Middle Tennessee is set for next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

"We've got a lot to work to get ready for conference play, which starts next week," Holliday said before later adding, "Anytime you get into your conference, every game you play is a championship game. We've got to go on the road next week to Middle Tennessee … we'll get back and go to work Monday."

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a seven-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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