Pair of pick sixes helps Herd thunder past Purdue

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Say this for Austin Appleby: outside those times he was intercepted, the Purdue quarterback played a pretty good game. Problem is, he was intercepted four times and two of them went back for touchdowns, providing the margin necessary for Marshall to register a come-from-behind 41-31 victory on Sunday afternoon.

After accepting the opening kickoff, Purdue’s very first snap from scrimmage was an Appleby pass immediately snared by Tiquan Lang and returned 30 yards for a touchdown. Appleby settled down from there – for the most part – over the course of the first half, tossing a nine-yard touchdown to Danny Anthrop (while in the process of stiff-arming a Marshall defender) and plunging in for a one-yard score, allowing the Boilermakers to take a 21-17 lead to the locker room.

Marshall’s Michael Birdsong put the Herd back on top to open the second half, firing a one-yard scoring strike to Ryan Yuracheck as the punctuator to a nine-play, 71-yard drive. Purdue regained the lead midway through the third on a 36-yard Markell Jones jaunt and held that edge until the game’s final three minutes. Trailing 31-27, Birdsong led Marshall on an efficient 11-play, 84-yard march, handling most of the drive himself before handing to Devon Johnson for a twisting six-yard score to give Marshall a 34-31 edge with 2:50 to go.

On the ensuing drive, Appleby led Purdue to its own 40 before a downfield toss was intercepted by Lang, again, who raced the rock 55 yards for the clinching score with 1:20 remaining. Appleby was intercepted again for good measure just five plays later, ending any delusion of a comeback with 27 ticks remaining.

For the day, Appleby was 31-of-48 for 270 yards (plus 12 rushing) for those two touchdowns to go with his four interceptions. The Boilermakers moved the ball more effectively than Marshall, edging the Thundering Herd on the ground (D.J. Knox and Jones combined for 174 yards and two scores on 34 attempts) and through the air while maintaing a 28-20 edge in first downs and a 10-4 advantage in third down conversions. The Purdue defense even forced three turnovers of its own. But it’s hard to win, especially on the road, while handing the opponent 17 points in the forms of two pick sixes and a missed field goal.

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For Doc Holliday and company, Sunday’s win was a grand way to begin the post-Rakeem Cato era. Birdsong connected on 23-of-36 throws for 234 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Johnson added 11 carries for 89 yards and a score. Before a sellout crowd of 38,000-plus, the Herd recorded their 20th win in 22 tries dating back to November of 2013 – and first ever over a Big Ten opponent.

The loss sends Purdue careening on an opposite trajectory. The program has now lost 21 of 25 games under head coach Darrell Hazell. Sunday’s loss was also Purdue’s sixth straight road non-conference setback, a streak dating back to 2007.

Purdue leading Marshall after high-scoring first half

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The first play of Purdue’s 2015 season could not have gone any worse. The rest of the first half could not have gone much better.

Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby was intercepted by Marshall defensive back Tiquan Lang on the first play from scrimmage Sunday afternoon in Huntington, who returned it 30 yards for an easy Thundering Herd touchdown. The Boilermarkers controlled the rest of the half, though, and head to the break with a 21-17 lead.

The Boilers recovered well from the first-snap catastrophe, immediately driving 75 yards in 11 plays to tie the game on a four-yard D.J. Knox run. Marshall scored the next 10 points, registering a 20-yard touchdown pass from Michael Birdsong to running back Devon Johnson and a 42-yard Nick Johnson field goal.

Appleby answered with a pair of unanswered touchdowns to close the half, first hitting Danny Anthrop for a nine-yard score with 38 ticks left in the first quarter, then putting his club on top with a one-yard sneak at the 7:35 mark of the second quarter.

All three of Purdue’s scoring marches covered at least 72 yards.

Appleby has completed 19-of-27 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and a pick, and Knox added 51 yards on 10 carries. Birdsong completed nine of his 14 throws for 80 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson led the Herd in rushing with seven carries for 36 yards. Marshall outrushed Purdue in the opening half 80-61.

Marshall will receive to open the second half.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

(more…)

Marshall’s Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler storm past NIU in first Boca Raton Bowl

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Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Shuler played their last game together as a record-setting duo for the Thundering Herd at the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl, and the childhood friends had a blast at the expense of the Northern Illinois Huskies.

Marshall claimed an impressive 52-23 victory over North Illinois. With the win, Doc Holliday‘s program finished 13-1 this season, while the Huskies have now lost three straight bowl games.

Cato and Shuler essentially played a simple game of pitch and catch during the contest as the Huskies helplessly failed to stop either.

The quarterback finished the contest 25-of-37 passing for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Shuler, meanwhile, caught 18 of those passes for 185 yards and a touchdown.

Both performances set new records.

First, Cato broke his own school record with a new season high in touchdown passes.

Shuler’s aspirations were a little higher than simply setting a new program record. The wide receiver broke a Conference USA career record during his unbelievable performance.

Northern Illinois simply couldn’t match Marshall’s explosive offense, particularly in the second half. While 425 yards of total offense is generally considered an impressive output, it was still 80 yards less than Marshall accumulated. And Marshall could have made it even worse late in the game before pulling back the reins.

As talented as Cato and Shuler are, running back Devon Johnson can’t be overlooked. The 243-pound running back set the tone early with his physical running style. He ended the contest with 131 rushing yards on only 15 carries.

A win in the Boca Raton Bowl may be a bit of a disappointment for the Thundering Herd, who entered the season with bigger aspirations, but Marshall once again proved its one of the finest programs not located in a Power Five conference.

Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall building its argument as best from Group of Five

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The battle to be the best from the Group of Five conferences stands in favor of the Marshall Thundering Herd. Doc Holliday‘s squad currently leads the Northern Illinois 24-13 at the Boca Raton Bowl.

Northern Illinois continues to be the class of the MAC, but they’ve come up short in bowl games recently. Two years ago, the Huskies earned a trip to the Orange Bowl only to fall 31-10 to the Florida State Seminoles. Last season, Northern Illinois came up short in the Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies.

The Huskies are in position to lose their third straight bowl game.

Of the two programs, Marshall looks like the team ready to take the next step and build a higher national profile.

The Thundering Herd entered the contest with the nation’s No. 1 offense. The one-two punch of quarterback Rakeem Cato and running back Devon Johnson can be very difficult to slow down. Stopping this offense is almost not an option.

Northern Illinois has been successful slowing Cato. The quarterback finished the half 7-of-12 passing for only 106 yards. All seven passes have been completed to wide receiver Tommy Shuler. But Johnson ran wild with 92 yards only eight carries. Both the quarterback and the running back registered a short rushing touchdown.

The Huskies have been successful moving the ball with 275 total yards through two quarters. In fact, Rod Carey‘s squad drove the ball inside the red zone four times. It came away with only one touchdown.

With the second half about to commence, Northern Illinois must finish on offense. The Huskies can’t allow Marshall’s defensive line to control the line of scrimmage. A few drives that result in touchdowns could get the Huskies back into the game. However, it all depends on whether or not Northern Illinois’ defense stop Marshall’s offense or force turnovers.