Marshall was just as susceptible as any other team to the trend of high-powered offenses not living up to expectations on the first weekend of the college football season.
For about 1 1/2 quarters.
The Thundering Herd went more than a quarter before picking up its initial first down. Once that happened, the offense opened up and Marshall beat old rival Miami (Ohio) 52-14 Saturday for its first season-opening win under head coach Doc Holliday.
An offense that averaged more than 90 plays per game last season managed only nine — a trio of three-and-outs — in the first quarter. Those nine snaps accounted for just 11 yards; Marshall averaged 534.2 per game a year ago.
Not until quarterback Rakeem Cato’s 15-yard run on third-and-8 at the 11:53 mark of the second quarter did Marshall finally move the chains.
That’s when it started to move the ball. At will.
Marshall finished with 34 first downs — even after going the first 18 minutes without one — and ran 94 plays (85 in the final three quarters).
And the running game figured big into the Herd’s offensive surge.
Senior Essray Taliaferro made his first career start and scored Marshall’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run to cap the breakthrough drive and tie the game at 7-7 with 10:04 to play before halftime.
Steward Butler got the bulk of the other carries and finished with 107 yards on 17 carries.
The Herd ran for 287 on the night.
Cato, of course, was even bigger. The junior from Miami, Fla., ran the offense like the leader he is expected to be. He threw five touchdown passes and was 22 of 34 for 253 yards in the first game of his third year as starter.
He connected with tight end Gator Hoskins for a pair of scores, including a 14-yarder on which Hoskins was all alone at the goal line.
The RedHawks’ two scoring drives were highlighted by big pass plays.
On the first, Dawan Scott leaped over two defenders to pull in a 45-yard catch at the Marshall 5. The Herd defense did push Miami back three yards over the next two plays, but then bit on a play fake by quarterback Austin Boucher, who threw eight yards to tight end Steve Marck for a touchdown.
A 47-yard completion from Boucher to freshman Rokeem Williams, who had three defenders around him, at the Herd 11 set up Spencer Treadwell’s 2-yard run that tied the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
Justin Haig was wide left on a 31-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the half, but the Marshall offense turned it on in the second half.
Once things got rolling, Marshall was able to get back to the hurry-up that made it one of the top offenses in the country in 2012, and the RedHawks could not stop it.
The Herd scored on its first five possessions of the second half, including Cato’s 56-yard bomb to redshirt senior Devon Smith to make it 45-14 with 9:57 to play.
The defense, meanwhile, made a statement after being one of the worst in the nation last year. The RedHawks didn’t score in the second half, during which they were held to two first downs and 55 yards of offense.
Marshall junior linebacker Raheem Waiters intercepted a Boucher pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and 52-14 Marshall advantage on the series after Smith’s TD reception.
Boucher, who completed his first eight passes, finished 10 of 22 for 165 yards.
Junior linebacker Jermaine Holmes had eight tackles, three for loss.
The teams were playing for the first time since 2004, when Marshall defeated the RedHawks 33-25. Miami, behind current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, won 45-6 in 2003, but the Herd led the series 6-2 while in the Mid-American Conference.
The Herd will return the trip to Oxford, Ohio, in 2014.
For now, Marshall will prepare for next Saturday’s visit from Gardner-Webb of the Football Championship Subdivision. Kickoff on Hall of Fame Weekend will be 6:30 p.m.
Gary Fauber is assistant sports editor of The Register-Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miami (Ohio) 7 7 0 0 — 14
Marshall 0 14 21 17 — 52
MiO—Marck 8 pass from A.Boucher (Patterson kick), 6:49.
Mar—Taliaferro 1 run (Haig kick), 10:04.
Mar—Shuler 4 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 3:44.
MiO—Treadwell 2 run (Patterson kick), 1:48.
Mar—Hoskins 20 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 13:17.
Mar—Wilkins 14 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 9:23.
Mar—Hoskins 14 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 4:20.
Mar—FG Haig 35, 13:57.
Mar—D.Smith 54 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 9:57.
Mar—Waiters 27 interception return (Haig kick), 9:41.
First downs 9 34
Rushes-yards 34-74 57-304
Passing 165 287
Comp-Att-Int 10-23-1 24-37-1
Return Yards 19 97
Punts-Avg. 9-50.2 4-47.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-35 2-21
Time of Possession 28:13 31:47
RUSHING—Miami (Ohio), Gearing 6-27, D.Scott 2-21, Treadwell 5-15, A.Boucher 11-8, Westbrook 4-7, Niemiec 1-4, Kummer 1-3, A.Green 2-2, Lee 2-(minus 13). Marshall, Butler 17-107, Taliaferro 19-89, Cato 9-59, Grooms 4-51, B.Frohnapfel 2-4, Reaves 5-3, Team 1-(minus 9).
PASSING—Miami (Ohio), A.Boucher 10-22-1-165, Gearing 0-1-0-0. Marshall, Cato 22-34-0-253, B.Frohnapfel 2-3-1-34.
RECEIVING—Miami (Ohio), Marck 4-41, Rok.Williams 3-77, D.Scott 2-41, Jenkins 1-6. Marshall, Shuler 9-67, D.Smith 3-75, Hoskins 3-38, Wilkins 3-36, Taliaferro 2-22, Woodrum 1-26, D.Johnson 1-10, Garrett 1-8, Grooms 1-5.