MCGILL: Marshall Doesn’t Sleep on Rice, Remains In Control of Destiny
Photo Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

Houston, Texas – Marshall coach Doc Holliday was on high alert this week. He knew the winless Rice Owls were going to be a challenge to keep winless, especially more than a thousand miles from home.

Rice led in the fourth quarter in a 7-point loss to Army, had a fourth quarter possession to tie Baylor in an 8-point loss, led Louisiana Tech in overtime before falling, squandered a fourth quarter lead against UTSA and had the ball on the 2 to tie Southern Miss in the fourth quarter a week ago.

There was little drama in Marshall's 20-7 win against Rice on the Owls' Homecoming, played here at the 70-year-old Rice Stadium. Because Holliday's Herd didn't take a team without a win lightly, Marshall is bowl eligible with its sixth win and still in control of its Conference USA East Division destiny.  

Saturday's outcome was another step toward the Herd's goal of a conference championship, with home games against Louisiana Tech (Nov. 15) and FIU (Nov. 30) sandwiched around a trip to Charlotte (Nov. 23) looming.

Marshall won its fourth consecutive game behind sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green, who was nearly flawless in the first half, as he rallied his team from an early deficit while playing turnover-free football.

Green's play was complemented by the Marshall defense, which dominated a Rice team ranked No. 127 in total offense. After allowing the Owls to score a touchdown on their second possession, the Herd defense forced four punts, a missed field goal attempt and stopped Rice three times on downs in the fourth quarter. Rice finished with 231 yards of total offense, including 103 passing and 128 rushing.

Green started strong, completing his first five pass attempts before a target intended for freshman receiver Broc Thompson was broken up in the end zone. Then, Green caught fire again, completing his final seven passes of the first half.

Six of those completions came on the Herd's final possession of the second quarter, a 13-play, 95-yard drive that ended with Green lofting a perfect ball to freshman receiver Talik Keaton in the back left corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. That gave Marshall a 17-7 lead at halftime, which included 14 unanswered points to end the half.

That was due, in large part, to Green, who completed 12 of 13 passes for 229 yards in the first half.

Marshall (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) opened the scoring on its second drive when senior kicker Justin Rohrwasser, who had a 28-yard attempt blocked on the team's first possession to snap his streak of 12 consecutive made field goals, connected on a 22-yarder to give the Herd a 3-0 lead with 1:08 left of the first quarter. The Herd has scored first in all six of its wins this season.

That sixth win was in doubt when Rice (0-9, 0-5) put together an 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from JoVoni Johnson to Austin Trammell to give the host Owls a 7-3 lead with 10:20 left of the second quarter. But that lead lasted all of 47 seconds, as Green found junior tight end Xavier Gaines for a 63-yard gain to the Rice 1-yard line, and then sophomore running back Brenden Knox plunged into the end zone on the next play to give the Herd a 10-7 lead.

After a brief Rice drive and a 48-yard punt that was downed at the MU 5-yard line, Green went to work on the Owls before halftime, hitting Levias twice for first downs – plays of 14 and 22 yards – and then finding Keaton on third and 10 from the 19. That was Keaton's first collegiate touchdown reception.

The teams combined for 3 second half points, a 49-yard field goal by Rohrwasser with 2:47 left of the third quarter.

Green finished 17 for 22 passing for 269 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Knox rushed 27 times for 130 yards and a touchdown, his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Levias led the Herd in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (96), the latter of which is a career high.

A trio of defenders – linebacker Tavante Beckett, safety Nazeeh Johnson and linebacker Omari Cobb – led Marshall with nine tackles.