Herd’s defense leads way in victory

Marshall University’s football team defeated the University of Southern Mississippi 31-10 Friday behind a stout defensive performance.
Southern Mississippi entered the game with the nation’s 13th-ranked offense and tops in Conference USA while also averaging 40.2 points per game.
However, the Herd’s defense held the Golden Eagles to 293 yards through three quarters and Southern Mississippi finished the game 30 points shy of its season average.
“That’s about as good a defensive performance I’ve seen by anyone,” head coach Doc Holliday said. “When (the defense) had to make a play, (the defense) made a play. They created five turnovers which was huge.”
Aside from the five-takeaways, the Marshall’s defense recorded 17 hits on Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens, as well as four sacks.
“We wanted to put some pressure on him,” Holliday said. “We’ve got some good blitzers, and we were getting some pressure on (Mullens) with our front four, even with our front three with our joker package.”
Defensive end Gary Thompson, who was named C-USA’s Player of the Week for his performance, registered seven tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, four quarterback hits and batted down two passes at the line in the Herd’s victory.
With the Southern Mississippi offense pinned at its own 9-yard line, Thompson had the opportunity to work one-on-one against the Golden Eagles’ right tackle. Thompson beat the tackle and delivered a hit on Mullens, which sent the ball into the air before falling into the hands of 287-pound defensive lineman Jarquez Samuel, who dove into the endzone from three yards out for a touchdown.
“The ball came right into my hands,” Samuel said. “That’s every defensive line or offensive line dream to score, so it felt really good.”
Samuel also batted down two passes and registered two hits on the quarterback.
Although front seven players such as Thompson, Samuel and linebacker Evan McKelvey, who led the Herd with 10 tackles, made numerous plays throughout the game, Marshall’s secondary came up big as well.
“I had my linebackers covering, and I had my secondary covering,” Thompson said. “They made the quarterback hold the ball longer, so I was able to get into the backfield. Without the secondary holding their guys in coverage, I wouldn’t have made the plays I did.”
In the secondary, Corey Tindal and Tiquan Lang each recorded two pass breaks up, while Rodney Allen secured his first career interception as the Marshall defense collected 15 total pass break ups and forced 29 total incompletions.
Though the defense forced five turnovers and relieved the Herd offense of the pressure of matching Southern Mississippi on the scoreboard, the team’s special teams units also produced some game-altering plays.
Defensive end Ryan Bee blocked a Southern Mississippi field goal attempt with 4:25 left in the second quarter, which kept the scored tied at 10.
The Marshall offense subsequently took over possession at its own 33-yard line before driving to the Southern Mississippi 23-yard line where the drive stalled, allowing the team’s holder and punter Tyler Williams to add to the special teams’ list of significant plays on the ensuing field goal attempt.
Williams faked the snap by signaling a false hand motion, inducing multiple Southern Mississippi defenders into a 5-yard offside penalty which gave Marshall a first down. The drive ended with quarterback Chase Litton tossing a 3-yard touchdown to a wide open Ryan Yuracheck, giving the Herd a 17-10 lead heading into halftime.
“It was 100 percent Tyler,” Litton said. “The fake snap really got them offside and gave us seven points instead of three.”
Litton also threw a 61-yard touchdown to Deandre Reaves on a seam route midway through the third quarter and finished the day completing 11 of his 21 passes for 163 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Running back Devon Johnson returned to action after missing last week’s game with back and ankle injuries and rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Marshall’s next game is scheduled for noon Saturday when it takes on Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.
Bradley Heltzel can be contacted at [email protected].