HERD ZONE: McGill - Huff-era Begins With Record-Setting Win Against Navy

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Charles Huff era was scoreless for only two minutes and 37 seconds. If the 38-year-old first-time head coach, who was raised in nearby Denton, wanted to make a quick statement in his backyard, he did.

Freshman running back Rasheen Ali scored the first of his four rushing touchdowns to cap a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive and Huff's debut had few blemishes thereafter as Marshall defeated host Navy, 49-7, in record-setting fashion in front of 30,131 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Huff is the first Marshall head coach to open on the road and win, although Kemper Shelton did manage to start his coaching career with a scoreless tie at Marietta to begin the 1922 season.

It took 157 seconds for Marshall (1-0) to open the scoring. After reigning Conference USA Freshman of the Year Grant Wells hit sophomore receiver Talik Keaton on a 47-yard pass to open the game, the offense moved quickly down the field before Ali darted up the middle from 2 yards out to open the scoring.

Ali also ended the Herd's second and fourth possessions with short touchdown runs – from 3 and 4 yards out – but he was hardly alone in Marshall's offensive attack. Wells was nearly flawless in the first half, completing 11 of 16 passes for 142 yards as the Herd built a 21-0 lead by intermission. Wells targeted sophomore Corey Gammage, who led the team in receiving last season, early and often, as the two connected four times for 47 yards in the opening half. Keaton had surpassed his career high for receiving yards in the first two drives and finished the first half with three catches for 79 yards.

Navy (0-1) had no answer for Marshall's defense, either. The Midshipmen did not score on any of its six first half drives, with one ending on downs, another on a blocked field goal attempt, three punts and then finally time expired in the first half with Navy knocking on the door at the Herd's 6-yard line.

The Midshipmen quarterbacks were sacked four times in the first half, and the Herd blocked both a field goal and a punt to shorten the field.

The second half was more of the same on a pleasant, sunny afternoon on the first full weekend of college football.

Marshall opened the second half with a scoring drive shorter than the opening game possession, covering 71 yards on five plays in 1:26. Wells started the third quarter with completions of 15 yards to Gammage, 20 yards to senior tight end Xavier Gaines, and another 22-yard pass to Gammage. Ali's 5-yard rush set up fellow running back Sheldon Evans, who scored from 9 yards out to give the Herd a 28-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Navy could not capitalize on its opportunities. Marshall held a 28-0 lead after three quarters, and the Midshipmen were 0 for 3 on its red zone chances. The Herd converted each of its first four trips in the red zone into touchdowns.

Navy finally ended that dry spell by scoring a short touchdown with 12:04 left of the fourth quarter, but that was too little, too late.

Ali tacked on his fourth rushing touchdown with 8:02 left of the fourth quarter to seal the game for the visitors. The last Marshall player to score four rushing touchdowns in a single game was Devon Johnson in 2014 against Florida Atlantic.

In addition to Ali's dazzling performance, Gammage established new career bests for receptions (seven) and receiving yards (94). Keaton notched a 100-yard receiving game – five receptions for 100 yards exactly – in a career-high effort.

On the defensive side, sophomore linebacker Eli Neal finished with 11 tackles and a career-best three sacks. Marshall's nine sacks are the second-most in school history.

The Marshall defense held Navy scoreless for nine drives to start the game. The Midshipmen finally put together a 14-play, 82-yard drive to spoil the shutout.

The Herd poured on three touchdowns in the final quarter to finish with a 42-point win. That margin of victory is the largest in program history in a season opener against a Football Bowl Subdivision team, besting the 38-point win against Miami (Ohio) to open the 2013 season.

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