"Hat's off to Coach Mike Price and UTEP," said Herd coach Mark Snyder following the loss. "They beat us in all three phases in the first half…we talked at halftime about not taking advantage of our opportunities (in the first half). We didn't in the second half and we were again beat in all three phases of the game."
Snyder was also impressed with UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer, who hit 17-fo-25 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the game, with one interception. "Palmer is very poised," said Snyder of the Cincinnati Bengal's Carson Palmer's younger brother. "He is very composed and played very, very well tonight. If your quarterback is going good, then usually your team is."
Dennnis Thornton got a hand on UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer in the first half in El Paso, Texas.
Although the Herd lost by four touchdowns, Marshall piled up 340 yards of total offense, including Ahmad Bradshaw's second 100-yard rushing game of his career with 17 carries for 133 yards. It is the first 100 yard-plus effort by any MU back this season. Marshall was only in the red-zone twice in the game, settling for a field goal and a fourth down pass that was batted away. Marshall wasted three turnovers by UTEP, including a Dennis Thorton interception and a Donte' Newsome recovery of a muffed punt in the first half and a fumble recovery by Demarcus Thomas in the second half.
The Herd unable to capitalize on any of those opportunities and saw UTEP cash in on both turnovers and big plays on special teams, especially three punt returns for 81 yards by speedster Johnny Lee Higgins. A sellout crowd of 51,500, the first Sun Bowl sellout since 2000 and the first-ever UTEP game sold out the day before, saw the Miners improve to 5-1 on the season and keep pace at 3-1 in Conference USA play with Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane improved to 4-1 in the West Division of C-USA with a 20-13 win over SMU earlier Saturday. Marshall fell to 3-4, 2-2 in C-USA's East Division, falling back of Southern Miss and UCF, who are both 3-1 folowing wins on Friday night over UAB and Tulane. Memphis, who improved to 3-2 in the East with a win 27-24 over East Carolina Saturday, is also still in the hunt for the East Division title.
Marshall will travel again next week, not a good thing for a team that has lost six consecutive road games and all three this season. Marshall will, however, play Tulane at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, where the Herd won two GMAC Bowls over ECU (64-61, in two overtimes in 2001) and over Louisville (38-15 in 2002).
Marshall linebacker Scott Wilks brought down UTEP back Marcus Thomas for a loss late in the second quarter.
For UTEP, backup tight end Jamar Hunt, pressed into action when starter Jake Sears was lost for the year last week with a knee injury, came up big with four catches for 39 yards and his second touchdown of the season. Backup receivers Aaron Givens (4-for-54) and Chris Marrow (3-for-15) were also pressed into starting rolls due to injuries to Jason Boyd and Chris Francies at wide out. Marshall held Higgins, known in El Paso as "TD Lee," to only two catches for 34 yards (Higgins entered the game averaging six receptions per game), but he did score for the fifth consecutive game.
Marshall QB Bernie Morris looked downfield during the second quarter in El Paso, Texas.
"It's hard to come all the way down here and show like we did tonight," said MU senior tight end Jeff Mullins. "We got to go back and look at the film and make corrections." Mullins was not concerned about a second-consecutive road game at Mobile next Saturday. "We've got to be strong as a team," said Mullins. "No matter if we are home or away, we have got to play better as a team." Marshall will play a Tulane team that will play at the fifth different "home" stadium of the year for the Green Wave, since being relocated to Ruston, Louisiana, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's damage to New Orleans, where Tulane is located.
UTEP took control of the game in the third quarter with two touchdowns to set the final score. After MU was unable to drive the opening kickoff, Jordan Palmer took the Miners down the field again. A five play, 56 yard drive ended with Palmer's touchdown pass to Hunt from nine yard out for the 24-3 lead.
After MU was again unable to drive, UTEP took over at their own 24-yard line after a 44-yard punt by Biagi. An eight-play, 76-yard drive led to the final score of the night and a 31-3 UTEP lead, when running back Matt Austin ran in from the two-yard line. The big play of the drive was a screen pass to Tyler Ebell, catching the Herd in an all-out blitz, going for 34 yards. Miners running back Marcus Thomas added 13 more yards on the next play and a pass interference penalty on Willie Smith to prevent a touchdown set up the scoring run by Austin, the senior's first score of 2005.
The story of the first half was Marshall not taking advantage of opportunities and the Miners cashing in on big plays on special teams and turnovers. The Herd picked off a pass and recovered a muffed punt, but came away with no points on either chance.
UTEP scored first after a 38-yard punt return by Higgins in the first quarter, needing only six plays to set up a 49-yard field goal by Reagan Schneider (that would have easily been good from 10-15 more yards). Marshall recovered a muff after a punt on its next series when Marty Biagi's kick hit a blocker in the back and was recovered by Newsome at the UTEP 39. However, Ian O'Conner would miss a 51-yard field goal attempt.
The Miners took over at their own 35-yard line and needed eight plays to score the game's first touchdown. Palmer hit Thomas on a swing pass that went for a 22 yard score. The Herd would get its first score on the ensuing kickoff. Morris would runs for 27 of the 73-yard drive, from the Herd's own 18-yard line, to move the ball down to the 10-yard line of the Miners. O'Connor (now 5-of-11 on field goals in 2005) made good on his second chance with a 27-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-3.
Marshall forced a fumble by Palmer on the next drive when freshman safety C.J. Spillman blitzed, but a Miner lineman, Jose Garcia, was able to recover the ball. After forcing a punt, Morris would have two passes batted down before defensive end Alex Obomese, who recorded a sack, a tackle-for-loss and three tackles as well as a QB hurry and one pass break up, intercepted a ball intended for Hiram Moore at mid-field and returned the ball to the Marshall 40-yard line. From there, Palmer directed a five play drive for a score, the bulk of which came on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Higgins, who beat freshman nickle back J.J. Johnson in the end zone.
Marshall would get one more chance when linebacker Thorton intercepted a Palmer pass at the Miner 47. Morris hit Bradshaw for eight yards on first down, but had his second down pass batted down by linebacker Jeremy Jones. Morris was sacked on third down by Obomese and the Herd was forced to punt. One of the highlites of the first half was Biagi's 49-yard punt, downed at the Miner two-yard line by Spillman and the Miners ran out the first half clock with the lead. Although the Miners led the Herd 17-3, the stats were very close. UTEP had 189 yards in total offense while the Herd had 162 yards at the half.
NOTES: Three points are the fewest scored by the Herd since the 13-3 loss last season at then-number three Georgia. The 17 points UTEP scored in the first half were the second most scored on MU this year (Kansas State scored all 21 points versus the Herd in the first half). The Herd has only scored 17 first-half points in the last five games, compared to 43 points in the second half (zero tonight against UTEP in the second half). Marshall has not scored in the first quarter since the K-State game, scoring 10 in the first against the Wildcats and also 10 in the first in the opener with William and Mary.