First-year Coach Expresses Disappointment in Team's Performance

HERD ZONE: McGill - Herd Rolls in Huff's Home Debut

 

By Chuck McGill

Huntington – Charles Huff's home debut may have lacked suspense, but there was plenty of excitement.

College football fans returned to Joan C. Edwards Stadium without restrictions on capacity, and the pageantry of the sport was on full display. The Marching Thunder returned to the field for pregame and halftime performances; a new tailgating component – Thunder Street – debuted on 20th Street outside of the stadium; fireworks punctuated every Marshall touchdown; and an in-stadium DJ complemented the fan favorites played by the marching band.

And, as far as football, like the C-130 that zoomed over the stadium at the end of the national anthem before the game – Marshall kept flying high.

The Thundering Herd had an easy time with visiting North Carolina Central, 44-10, to give Marshall its 11th consecutive win in a home opener. The Herd is now 2-0 in the Huff era and has outscored its opponents 93-17 through eight quarters.

"I would first like to start off by thanking the fans, students and alumni," Huff said. "I thought when we came out of that tunnel that student section was on fire and I appreciate that."

On Saturday night here in Huntington, everyone from Marshall (2-0) got in on the action.

Seven different offensive players carried the ball. Sixteen different players caught a pass. Second-year starting quarterback Grant Wells threw for 300-plus yards for the second consecutive game, and then two more quarterbacks saw action.

On the defensive side, the Thundering Herd held an opponent to 10 or fewer points. That happened last week, too, but prior to that it hadn't happened in consecutive weeks to start a season since 1999.

When all was said in done, Marshall won by 30-plus points in the first two games of the season for the first time since 2013.

"Yes, we won the game, but when you're trying to close the gap it's not about who you play, it's about how you play," Huff said.

The offensive onslaught started when Wells rushed 10 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter. That lead swelled to 13-0 when Wells tossed his first TD pass of the season, a 14-yard connection to Talik Keaton with 14:05 left of the second quarter.

Marshall pushed its lead to 20-0 when Wells found freshman running back Rasheen Ali in the flat, and the young backfield star raced 3 yards to the corner of the end zone to make it a three-score lead.

Keaton scored again in the first half on a 46-yard touchdown strike from Wells. That touchdown made it Keaton's first career multi-touchdown game.

A 27-yard field goal from Andrew Sanders made it 30-7, Marshall, at halftime.

"We have to be a lot better," Huff said. "Our discipline is way off. It goes back to our preparation.

"It's not about the yards, it's not about the score, it's about how you play," Huff added.

Huff made substitutions early in the third quarter, and offensive fireworks were limited after that. Sophomore running back Knowledge McDaniel scored his first touchdown of the year on a 3-yard rush with 4:40 left of the third quarter. Local product Ethan Payne concluded the Herd scoring midway through the fourth quarter when he made his way through the NCCU defense for an 8-yard scoring rush with 7:28 left of the game.

"I did think we bounced back a little as the game got going on in the second half and did some positive things," Huff said. "Got a chance to play a lot of guys."

Overall, McDaniel led the Herd in rushing with 67 yards on seven carries. Ali added 45 yards on eight carries, but almost made history with nine catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. Ali's reception total is the second most by a MU running back in school history. Ali had never caught a pass before Saturday's game.

Sophomore receiver Corey Gammage set a new career best with eight receptions. Vanderbilt transfer Jayden Harrison had a team-high 81 receiving yards on four catches.

Keaton starred for the second consecutive week, tallying 73 yards on three catches and a career high two touchdowns.

On defense, linebacker Charlie Gray led the way with six tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.

Marshall is back in action next Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium against East Carolina. Kickoff for that game is set for 6 p.m. and will be televised by CBS Sports Network (Facebook).

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).