Although UAB never stopped running the ball, Marshall got the fast start on offense that it wanted.
That fast start in turn led to the Thundering Herd’s best start in 10 years, and now Marshall officially has a bowl game in its future.
The Blazers got their yards, but the Herd got even more. Three backs combined for 365 yards in the most efficient offensive performance in school history as Marshall picked up that magical sixth win, defeating UAB 56-14 Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) is bowl-eligible this early in a season for the first time since 2003.
That goal can now be checked off the list. The next one is an East Division championship, which remains within reach. The Herd’s Nov. 30 clash with East Carolina shapes up, for now, as a winner-take-all game for the division.
“I can assure you we didn’t have any Gatorade baths or anyone dancing in the locker room because we won six games,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “That’s what we expect to do around here. Our standards and expectations around here aren’t (only) to get bowl-eligible and win six games. It’s to go play for championships.
“That’s all well and good, but we’ve got higher expectations. Our fan base does, our community does, our football program does. We’re not about winning six games. We’re about having higher standards and expectations and preparing for next week, because that can get us where we need to go.”
Marshall scored on five of its six first-half possessions in building a 35-14 lead. The only time it didn’t score was when Justin Haig’s 38-yard field goal was blocked.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato was his usual self, completing 14 of 20 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns and had his second straight game without an interception. His 39-yard touchdown to Eric Frohnapfel gave him a TD pass in 27 straight games, eclipsing Chad Pennington’s record.
He exited after scoring on a 6-yard run — his only carry of the game — for a 49-14 lead on the Herd’s second possession of the third quarter.
But the ground game highlighted a seasonable afternoon in front of 22,321 fans.
Essray Taliaferro, Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler (Remi Watson missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral) all took advantage of the offensive line’s dominance to post 100-yard performances. It was the first time in Marshall football history that three players rushed for 100 yards in the same game.
Marshall finished with 657 yards of total offense on just 52 plays for a school record of 12.6 yards per snap. That topped the old mark of 12.4 set against VMI in 1991.
The Herd struck as quickly as it did often, with a total time of possession of just 20:59. UAB, which had 464 total yards, had the ball for 39:01.
Grooms looks to have regained the burst Holliday has said he’s been missing since the high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason. His 71-yard touchdown run one play after the defense stopped UAB running back Jordan Howard on fourth down was his second score of more than 70 yards in as many weeks. He had a 75-yard touchdown in a 61-13 win over Southern Miss on Nov. 2.
Grooms, who finished with 108 yards, also scored on a 9-yard reception with 20 seconds to play before halftime.
Taliaferro (118 yards, two touchdowns) posted his third straight 100-yard rushing game — the first Herd back to do that since Darius Marshall did it in four straight games in 2009 — and Butler ran for a team-high 139 yards, going over the mark with a 49-yard touchdown that put the Herd up 56-14 with 11:41 to play.
UAB (2-7, 1-4) moved the ball, but had trouble getting into the end zone.
Howard, a true freshman, led with 123 yards, while Darrin Reaves — a first-team all-conference pick last year — finished with 98 and a touchdown.
But UAB turned the ball over twice, including a fumble by quarterback Jonathan Perry at his 12-yard line on the game’s opening drive, and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Receiver Jamarcus Nelson was nearly a non-factor. His 58-yard reception on the Blazers’ first scoring drive was his only catch of the day.
Marshall has a quick turnaround, going to Tulsa Thursday night. Kickoff will be 7:30 p.m. Eastern and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
UAB..............................7 7 0 0 — 14
Marshall.....................21 14 14 7 — 56
Mar—Taliaferro 7 run (Haig kick), 12:41.
UAB—D.Reaves 2 run (Long kick), 8:59.
Mar—E.Frohnapfel 39 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 7:26.
Mar—Grooms 71 run (Haig kick), 3:22.
Mar—Shuler 6 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 12:18.
UAB—D.Reaves 32 pass from Perry (Long kick), 8:45.
Mar—Grooms 9 pass from Cato (Haig kick), :20.
Mar—Taliaferro 16 run (Haig kick), 12:43.
Mar—Cato 6 run (Haig kick), 5:44.
Mar—Butler 49 run (Haig kick), 11:41.
First downs 22 25
Rushes-yards 56-288 32-381
Passing 176 276
Comp-Att-Int 10-17-0 14-20-0
Return Yards (-5) 0
Punts-Avg. 2-37.0 1-43.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-15 8-50
Time of Possession 39:01 20:59
RUSHING—UAB, Howard 22-123, D.Reaves 24-98, Perry 9-54, Nelson 1-13. Marshall, Butler 7-139, Taliaferro 12-118, Grooms 8-108, Rodriguez 3-7, Cato 1-6, B.Frohnapfel 1-3.
PASSING—UAB, Perry 10-17-0-176. Marshall, Cato 14-20-0-276.
RECEIVING—UAB, D.Reaves 3-47, Adams 3-33, Wright 2-14, Nelson 1-58, N.Smith 1-24. Marshall, Shuler 6-100, Hoskins 2-67, Wilkins 2-20, D.Johnson 1-41, E.Frohnapfel 1-39, Grooms 1-9, Taliaferro 1-0.