Marshall dominated the East Carolina team tonight, holding the Pirates to just 14 first downs, 108 yards rushing, 259 yards of total offense and only one score. "I love coaching here (at Marshall)," said Snyder after the game. "Our kids feed off this crowd, and I believe our crowd feeds off us. When we are playing well, it's a really special feeling." Snyder had not taken the ball when winning the flip since his first game as head coach against William and Mary in 2005.
C.J. Spillman sent East Carolina QB Patrick Pinkney into the air on this play in the second half of Marshall's 26-7 win over the Pirates on Saturday in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The crowd rose again and again as Marshall made great plays on offense, like Bernard Morris' 75-yard touchdown run (to give MU a 16-0 lead in the third quarter) or Mario Harvey's sack on a late fourth down stop of the Pirates. Marshall held the defending Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week, ECU running back Chris Johnson, to just 72 yards rushing and 143 all-purpose yards a week after he rushed for over 300 yards and had 400 all-purpose yards against Memphis.
The Herd defense subbed freely during the game, using linebackers like Antawn Booker and Ian Hoskins (four tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss) as rush ends, while true rush end John Jacobs had four tackles, 0.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries. Freshman end Michael Janac moved inside to tackle and helped bring speed up front, while Ryland Wilson (four tackles, one hurry) played both end and tackle.
Emmanuel Spann hauled in this 17-yard TD pass from QB Bernard Morris in the fourth quarter, giving Marshall a 23-7 lead over East Carolina. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd defense was also successful sending the linebackers and got the most pressure of the quarterback in the 2007 season. Marshall also recorded its most sacks as a defense, with three for minus-22 yards. Middle linebackerand "Will" linebacker Harvey, who tied junior safety C.J. Spillman (109 tackles on the season) for the team lead with 13 tackles, were both very effective in bringing pressure on both ECU quarterbacks. Harvey has recorded 24 tackles in the last two games, and added a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries tonight. D.J. Wingate got his first start at corner and the true freshman gave the Herd six tackles, a team best three passes broken up and one quarterback hurry. Wingate and J.J. Johnson played much tighter coverage and were much more effective at corner in the game for the Herd than some recent secondary efforts.
"Credit the defensive staff," said Snyder of Coach Steve Dunlap's plan for the Herd defense against East Carolina. "Our defensive coaches came up with a good game plan. We were going to pressure them and we had success with it last year." In the 2006 game, end Albert McClellan of the Herd (sitting out 2007 with a knee injury), set a MU record with 6.5 tackles for loss at ECU.
Bernard Morris ran past the East Carolina defense during this 75-yard touchdown run on Saturday night. Morris's run was in the third quarter, and gave Marshall a 16-0 lead over ECU. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
On the other side of the ball for Marshall, the much maligned offensive line stood tall tonight, giving up only two sacks for minus-14 yards. Their play allowed the Herd to have a its most balanced attack of the season, with 238 yards passing and 239 yards rushing. "I think what set the tone was the offense taking the ball and doing something with it," said Snyder. "It has nothing to do with whether you take the ball or defer. When you get your chances offensively and defensively, you have to make them work."
Morris led the Herd by rushing for 126 yards, making him the first quarterback in Marshall's recorded statistical history (back to 1959) to top 1,000 rushing in his career. He passed Danny Wright (942 yards from 1977-79) as the all-time leader and now has 1,036 rushing yards in his career. With one score, he now also has nine career touchdowns, trailing only Brad Workman (21, 1915-16 and 1919); Michael Payton (14, 1989-92); and Ted Shoebridge (11, 1969-70) for rushing scores in a career by a MU quarterback. Shoebridge and the 1970 Herd were lost in a plane crash returning from a loss at East Carolina on Nov. 14, and were honored with a moment of silence before the game. The annual Memorial Fountain ceremony at the Memorial Student Center will be Wednesday.
E.J. Wynn caught this 23-yard touchdown pass from Bernard Morris in the second quarter. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"I thought Bernard played well," said Snyder of his senior quarterback, who now has 2,580 yards passing this season (16th best season in MU history), with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. "He's been playing well all year. He's running and throwing, he's a dual threat. It shows when we play in all three phases, a total team game, how good we can be. For tonight, we showed where we can be and where we can go." Morris is eighth all-time in passing at MU and now has 5,047 yards passing and has 6,083 yards of total offense in his career.
Morris was also on through the air, throwing for 238 yards on 24-of-32, 75 percent completions with two scoring passes and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to eight receivers, finding tight end Cody Slate for six catches for 53 yards. Junior receiver E.J. Wynn turned in the best day of his career, with six catches for 51 yards and a 23-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left in the second quarter that sent the Herd to the locker room with a 10-0 lead. ECU drove for a 38-yard field goal attempt after that score, but the kick by the Pirates' Ben Hartman was wide left. Morris talked with the younger players on MU's team before the game, and said the seniors would work to win the final three games and get the returning players ready for winning 2008.
Also having a touchdown was Morris' roommate, junior receiver Emmanuel Spann, whose touchdown was an answer for East Carolina's only score, a four yard run by Johnson that made the score 16-7 with 7:55 to go in the third quarter. After an exchange of punts, Marshall drove 66 yards in eight plays and the drive ended with Spann catching a 17 yard "rope" from Morris in traffic to give Marshall a 23-7 lead. On the Pirate's next drive, the MU defense stopped ECU on fourth and three at the Herd's 43-yard line. Patrick Pinkney, who got the bulk of the snaps at quarterback for East Carolina after Rob Kass got the start, was rushed by Harvey and his pass was fortunately short to Jamar Bryant or Wingate would have had his first career interception.
Marshall took 5:43 off the clock with a ten play, 41 yard drive that Anthony Binswanger finished off with his second field goal of the game from 33 yards. Binswanger opened the Herd scoring with a 34-yard effort on the opening drive, as the Herd took 8:37 off the game clock in the opening drive. In fact, the Herd controlled the ball for almost 38 minutes (37:53) to 22:07 for the Pirates. Marshall had 26 first downs and ran 74 plays for 477 yards of offense to just 259 for ECU on only 57 plays. Harvey had a sack on ECU's final drive, and Wingate got his hurry to stop the Pirates on fourth-and-17 and just under four minutes remaining. MU drove the rest of the time off the clock for the win.
"There's a lot of disappointment in our locker room," said ECU head coach Skip Holtz, "and a lot of heavy hearts. It's frustrating. I give Marshall a lot of credit. They came out here and played an excellent football game. I thought we played well, but didn't tackle well." East Carolina falls to 5-2 in league play, 6-5 overall and saws its three-game road win streak, and five game C-USA win streak, broken in Huntington. Central Florida will pass the Pirates in the standings, at 5-1, with its win at UAB Saturday.
ECU will have its open week next weekend, and has Tulane left in Greenville, N.C. on Nov. 24. They will need to win, and have UCF to lose at SMU next week or at home to UTEP to win the division. ECU beat UCF, 52-38, in week six and have the tie-breaker with the Knights.
Marshall (2-8, 2-4 in C-USA) will travel to Houston next week, another team that saw its chance to claim the divisional crown snatched away. Tulsa blew out the Cougars, 56-7, in Oklahoma Saturday. It will be Homecoming for UH, now 6-4 overall and tied with Tulsa at 5-2 in league play. TU has one league game left, at Rice (a 43-42 winner over SMU today), while Houston will play MU, then finish out of conference. The Herd will play its final game of the season on Nov. 24, when UAB (2-8, 1-5 in C-USA) visits Huntington on Thanksgiving weekend.