HERD OFFENSE STRUGGLES IN FIRST ROAD GAME OF SEASON

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Marshall University lost 21-10 at the hands of rival Ohio University in its road opener Saturday putting its season record at 1-1 in a game that those with allegiances to the Marshall program would prefer to delete from the record book and their respective minds.

The loss was dictated by a slew of penalties, poor offensive execution and curious play calling with the second half transforming into a punt, pass and kick competition for both sides…minus the passing and the kicking.

Marshall and Ohio combined to go just 5-18 on third down after halftime as both offenses barely eclipsed 100 yards with Marshall finishing the second half with 104 compared to Ohio’s 122.

In other words, the Marshall defense gifted the offense an abundance of opportunities to invoke the euphoria of the team’s comeback victory over Purdue.

After allowing two touchdown drives and 262 total yards of offense in the first half, the Herd defense stiffened allowing just 47 yards on Ohio’s first five drives of the second half before finally conceding the definitive touchdown after a 5-play, 85-yard drive that pushed the Ohio lead to 21-10 with just 2:05 remaining.

However, after a piddling first half which the Herd offense spent mostly moving in reverse, with the exception of running back Devon Johnson’s 73-yard touchdown jaunt early in the second quarter, it continued to gorge in the penalties and lack of execution after halftime leaving the defense’s gallant effort all for naught.

“Our defense played extremely hard and we didn’t have their back,” right tackle Clint Van Horn said.

The Herd offense finished the day with 263 total yards, seven penalties for 57 yards, went 3-16 on third and fourth down and committed four turnovers.

The uninspiring performance by the Marshall offense can be divvied to all parties involved.

“None of us played well,” Johnson said. “As an offense we all had mental errors.”

Quarterback Michael Birdsong threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and completed just 16 of his 33 pass attempts for 106 yards. The offensive line had some difficulty communicating and picking up Ohio blitzes and also committed multiple holding and false start penalties. The outside receivers were a complete non-factor as they combined for just two catches for 13 yards. Even Johnson, who amassed 170 yards on 21 carries lost a fumble for the second time in as many games.

“We just didn’t execute,” Birdsong said. “We have to execute better routes, throw better balls. That’s all it comes down to.”

The lack of offensive productivity also brought about questions regarding the play calling of offensive coordinator Bill Legg who called 35 pass plays versus 23 runs despite his quarterback’s struggles. It was Legg’s refusal to give the ball to Johnson on consecutive third-quarter drives that was most perplexing.

Facing a 3rd-and-1 on its own 38, Legg opted to go to the air and the ensuing result was an incompletion and a Tyler Williams punt following a three-and-out. Williams’ punt, however, was muffed by the Ohio returner and Marshall long snapper Matt Cincotta pounced on the loose ball setting the Herd offense up with a first-and-10 on the Ohio 17 yard line, trailing 14-7 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.

Legg called three straight pass plays, the offense failed to gain a yard and the Herd settled for a Nick Smith field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10.

The following possession, Johnson was the recipient of four touches gaining 25 yards, but his fumble abruptly halted the drive, and the Herd offense failed to cross midfield the rest of the night.

“We watched the game yesterday,” Birdsong said, “and in my point of view it’s done with. We’re going to learn from it, we’re going to better from it, and we’re not going to let it happen again.”

The Herd will return to Joan C. Edwards Stadium this weekend, where it hosts Norfolk State Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

Bradley Heltzel can be contacted at [email protected]

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