Long-time Marshall fans can remember the joy of breaking similar streaks in the past 30 years, like when MU went 27 games without wins in the 1966-69 era and the first five years of Southern Conference play.
But tonight, Herd fans did not enjoy a game where their team was outplayed in most phases of the game -offense,defense and special teams. Marshall was outgained two-to-one in total offense in the first half by the Golden Knights.
While Marshall did play somewhat better in the second half, it was far from enough to stay with the Knights in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando at the first UCF home game of the season. The Knights improved to 1-2 but are now -more importantly- 1-0 in Conference USA.
"We did not come and match their intensity to start the game," said Marshall head coach Mark Snyder after the game. "Obviously, when you go on the road, you can't turn the ball over especially in a hostile environment like that. We had too many penalties."
Marshall set up UCF's first touchdown when Marshall quarterback and Orlando native Bernie Morris, getting the start in the Citrus Bowl, was sacked on MU's second offensive play by UCF end Paul Carrington and fumbled the ball. Defensive tackle Keith Shologan recovered the ball at the Herd 12 yard line.
Marshall receiver Marcus Fitzgerald finally put The Herd on the board with this TD reception from QB Jimmy Skinner against UCF on Saturday night in Orlando, Florida. photo by Rick Haye for Herd Insider
UCF took only three plays to drive in for the first score of the game and its first lead of the young season. QB Stephen Moffett passed five yards to Brandon Marshall and Matt Prater's extra-point made it 7-0.
"The whole key coming in was they had not won a game in awhile," said Snyder. "You don't want to give them any life. Right off the bat, we fumble the ball. The kid makes a great catch in the end zone to go up 7-0 to give them life and the lead."
The Herd came back with a long drive from its own 19-yard line, with Morris completing six passes in a row at one point to four different receivers. But a false start - the Herd would have five, one by each starting offensive lineman in the first half in front of a noisy UCF crowd of 22,127 in the 76,000 seat Citrus Bowl - led to Ian O'Connor missing a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left.
UCF scored again with 6:50 to play in the second quarter when freshman Kevin Smith scored from one yard out to give the Knights a 14-0 lead. It was a 12-play, 84-yard drive for the Knights, who had to take three plays to punch the ball in from the two-yard line following a controversial pass interference penalty on Marshall corner Willie Smith.
Smith appeared to have position and was playing the ball, but was flagged as he and receiver Willie Thorton bumped with the ball in the air.
UCF scored its final points of the half when Prater hit from 49 yards to set the halftime at 17-0 for the Knights.
"You heard the noise in (the Citrus Bowl) tonight," said UCF coach O'Leary, who gained his first win in two seasons at the helm of the Knights program. "I am happy for the kids. I am happy they had some success tonight and won and got that (streak) off their back."
As the Herd got the ball to start the second half, Chris Hawkins put the Herd deep in the hole when he tried to bring a ball from five yards deep in the end zone and was tackled at the five. Two penalties for blocking in the back moved the ball back to the two-yard line and Marshall got only a 35-yard punt to give UCF great field position.
UCF took over at their own 28-yard line and drove for a Prater 33-yard field goal to go up 20-0 with 5:28 to play in the third quarter. The big play in the drive was a 30-yard completion from Moffett to Marshall, who got by freshman nickel back J.J. Johnson to move the ball to the MU 19-yard line.
The Herd would finally dent the scoreboard when Albert McCellan, a freshman defensive end from Lakeland, Florida, forced and recovered a fumble to give MU the ball at the UCF 24-yard line. Skinner hit Hiram Moore for a 24-yard score to cut the lead to 20-7 with 2:21 to play in the third quarter.
Marshall appeared to have another opportunity to cut the lead when Matt Couch intercepted a Moffett pass and gave the Herd the ball at mid-field. UCF took it right back two plays later with a interception of a Skinner pass by Travonti Johnson that would lead to Prater's third field goal of the night and a 23-7 lead for the Golden Knights.
Marshall came right back with another eight-play, 80-yard drive and this time cashed in with a first-ever touchdown catch by Marcus Fitzgerald from Skinner for 12 yards to make the game 23-13.
Skinner,who was sacked three times and hurried twice as many times, was rushed on the two-point attempt and threw short to tight end Jeff Mullins in the end zone. The Herd had one last chance when J.J. Johnson blocked a punt off the foot of UCF's Aaron Horne with 2:37 to play, after the Herd defense made a stop.
MU had used its last two timeouts of the game to save the clock. Terick Thomas recovered the fumble and Marshall had a first and ten at the UCF 16-yard line.
It was to no avail, however as Skinner miss-fired to Shawn Lauzon on first down; was sacked for an eight-yard loss on second down; hit Ahmad Bradshaw for just one yard on third and 18; and was long on a pass to Lauzon on fourth and 17.
UCF ran out the clock and the fans ran onto the field, taking down the east goal post.
"We did not match their intensity," said Snyder. "They came out and we gave them life, we gave them a chance, we gave them opportunity to score and they gained momentum from there."
Snyder also cited poor play on special teams, as Marty Biagi punted six times for only a 34.0 yard average and the punt return team gave up three returns for 34 yards. Marshall only averaged 12 yards per kickoff return and O'Connor missed on a field goal.
"I think our special teams have to play better," said Snyder.
Notes: Hiram Moore continued his solid junior season with a touchdown catch and six other receptions for 110 yards. Bradshaw had little luck running...the Herd had an average of 0.7 yards per rush on 11 yards in 16 carries...with only 18 yards on eight carries, but did damage with 10 catches for 76 yards. Fitzgerald continued to play well in his second game back from injury with seven catches for 88 yards and his first score. Defensively, Dennis Thorton had 11.5 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and two sacks, his best game to date. Couch added to his interception with seven tackles. No other Herd player had more than four tackles. Marshall allowed 10 tackles-for-loss on offense by the UCF defense, four sacks total and had eight quarterback hurries in which Skinner and Morris took numerous hits. MU lost both fumbles, one by Morris on the early sack and one by Skinner, and Skinner threw two interceptions on 25-of-45 passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Morris was 8-of-13 for 72 yards in limited action.