Well the Thundering Herd's defense did meet the Cougars backup QB, Cotton Turner, for most of the 4th quarter anyway. Unfortunately for Gale and his teammates, they were trailing 56-21 by the time Turner made his appearance as the Herd could not hang with the Cougars dominating aerial attack in losing 63-28 before 32,107 raucous Cougar fans Saturday night at the Rob for Homecoming, pushing their record to 7-0 on the season and 3-0 in CUSA's Western division. Turner, for his part, added the final touchdown on a 6 play 81 yard drive capped off by a 10 yard pitch to receiver Daniel Spencer for his first career TD.
This night, however, belonged to Keenum as he had more passing touchdowns than incompletions on the night (six to four). He completed 24 of his 28 passes, including his first seven to start the game, 12 of his first 14 and 19 of 21 before halftime. His 376 yards give him 16,271 career passing yards, 802 short of overtaking former Hawaii great Timmy Chang for the all time NCAA FBS record. Keenum also passed Chang in total yards late in the first after a 30 yard slant to receiver Justin Johnson. Keenum now has 17,173 total yards from scrimmage and has also tossed 130 career TD passes, which are five short of overtaking former Texas Tech great Graham Harrell. Behind Keenum's precision passing this year(he's completed an amazing 72.9 percent of his passes for a per game average of nearly 385 yards and 3 TDs per game), I wouldn't be surprised to see him break the TDs passing record next Thursday versus Rice and the passing yards record in two games at UAB on November the 5th. In the amazing stat of the night, Keenum has now completed 164 straight passes without an interception and has 23 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions on the season in all. In the second amazing stat of the night, the Cougars scored touchdowns on five of their first six offensive possessions in only nine minutes of possession time. Keenum on breaking the total yards record via uhcougars.com, "It was an incredible honor but having the guys around me made it even more special. It was great doing it here at Robertson Stadium in front of a home crowd. It was very special and meant a lot to me."
The night might have belonged to Keenum but a lot of the credit has to go to his offensive line for once again not allowing opposing defenses to put him on his back. For the season the O-line has allowed a mere eight sacks (in seven games). For that, Jacolby Ashworth, Ty Cloud, Chris Thompson, Kevin Forsch and Rowdy Harper (the Cougars starters from left to right tackle respectively) – take a bow. Also worth noting is that Marshall defensive end, Vinny Curry, nary laid a hand on Keenum. The Herd's offensive line seemed to disrupt the Cougars offense with penetration on their first two plays but after that the O-line seemed to settle down. Ashworth commented after the game on Marshall's plan to knock Keenum out of the game, "We put that on our shoulders to keep him clean. We do that every week. It was just like any other game." Sumlin on how the offense was able to neutralize Curry and the Herd's defensive pressure, "They came into the game knowing they wanted to pressure the quarterback. I thought our offensive staff did an excellent job adjusting during the game. That gave our team things that we could execute against, the blitz on situations where there were long downs and first down and we could take some shots. We were extremely effective not only executing but also play calling too."
As usual, Keenum ‘spread the wealth around' as he completed passes to eight different Cougars. Leading the charge yet again was Patrick Edwards, who caught 7 passes for 109 yards. On the Cougars third play from scrimmage, Keenum beautifully stepped up into the pocket and side stepped to his right avoiding pressure before hitting Edwards in stride down the right sideline at Marshall's 36 yard line before outracing the Herd's secondary for a 70 yard TD. Edwards was deemed as to having stepped out of bounds at first but after official review the call was overturned and the touchdown stood, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead barely a minute into the game. Tyron Carrier caught 7 passes of his own for 97 yards and a TD off of a 12 yard swing pass giving the Coogs a 14-7 lead nearly a minute and a half after Marshall had tied the score at 7 after a long drive of their own. Justin Johnson chipped in with 3 receptions for 54 yards and a beautiful diving 17 yard scoring reception of his own.
The Cougars running backs (minus Bryce Beall due to a hamstring injury) also had a combined 130 receiving yards on 5 receptions. Charles Sims (whom had 40 yards receiving on two of those receptions) was the star on the ground as he ran for 75 yards on 7 carries including a 50 yard burst up the middle that later set up a 6 yard scoring scamper to put the Coogs up 21-14 early in the 2nd quarter. In showing off their versatility, Sims lead the ground attack but the star through the air was Michael Hayes as he caught two TDs off of beautiful swing passes for 49 and 35 yards just minutes apart that put the Cougars up 35-14 midway through the 2nd quarter. As I had stated in my Marshall game preview story, Marshall's lack of depth really hits home beginning in the second quarter as they had been outscored 82-30 entering Saturday night's game. The Cougars up tempo no huddle offense put the pedal to the metal as they outscored the Herd 21-7 in the period putting the game away in taking a 35-14 lead into the break after a great goal line stand to end the half on nice open field tackles at the Cougars one yard line, first by defensive back Thomas Bates and then defensive end David Hunter on 4th and goal.
Speaking of the defense, the ‘bend but don't break' philosophy of defensive coordinator Brian Stewart once again showed how they can step up as a unit when needed. Overall the stats didn't look nice as Marshall accumulated a tad over 500 yards of total offense (309 through the air and 197 via the ground game), but the Cougars defense made big play after big play at key moments when the game was still in doubt. Marshall is an ‘on schedule' offense, meaning they can't be put in 2nd and 3rd and long distances if they expect to stay in games. In giving with their bend but don't break philosophy, the Cougars were hit and miss on several plays, especially on the Herd's QB read option game-which has given them fits all season long. Marshall QB A.J. Graham had 84 yards on 12 carries, many on QB keepers, taking advantage of the Cougars aggressive defense. Surprisingly he also had a nice game passing, completing 27 of 35 passes for 235 yards and two TDs. Marshall receiver Aaron Dobson used his athleticism and his 6-foot-3 frame to jump over 5-10 corner back Zach McMillian twice in gathering in TDs in the early going for the Herd. McMillian had an otherwise nice game with seven tackles and a pass breakup. The star of the game for the Cougars defense was Mike linebacker Marcus McGraw, who with his game high 17 tackles had a game in which he had over 15 tackles for the third time this season. Fellow linebackers Sammy Brown, Phillip Steward and Derrick Mathews also had impressive games. Brown had two more sacks and two and a half more tackles for loss to his already impressive resume while Steward had nine tackles himself on the game. Mathews had a nice 20 yard interception that was returned for his first career TD. Of the injured Cougars in the secondary whom made their return Saturday night, corner D.J. Hayden was the most impressive as he had a second best nine tackles on the night, including one for loss. Safeties Chevy Bennett and Colton Valencia also returned but did not play much as starters Kent Brooks and Nick Saenz more than held their own. Also of note was a nice interception and 69 yard return by end Kelvin King.
The special teams play for the Cougars also did their part, especially kicker Jordan Mannisto as he added yet another four touchbacks on his ten kickoffs, giving him 14 out of 48 total on the season, for a touchback percentage of 39.5. Punter Richie Leone averaged nearly 45 yards on his two punts as the Cougars did not allow the dangerous Marshall return game to hurt them. Edwards and Carrier, however, are still in their funks in the punt and kick return game respectively. Edwards handled one punt return and was hit as soon as he fielded it while Carrier returned three kickoffs for 65 yards, or barely 22 yards per return. He still has a reputation though as one of Marshall's kickoffs went out of bounds, giving the Cougars great field position at their own 40 yard line which was key as two plays (and 60 yards later) the Cougars scored to make it a 42-21 game minutes after Marshall had pulled to within two touchdowns early in the third quarter.
Overall, the Cougars are on a roll especially on offense. While their defense isn't playing particularly great, they don't have to. As I said in my game preview, the Cougars offense forces opposing offenses out of their game plans by scoring so early and so often that the opposing teams are forced to scrap any semblance of a running game as they must pass often in the second half in order to keep up with the Cougars offense. So in essence, the defense only has to be average, which they have been in giving up only 22 points per game this season. How is that for a defensive motto, "Let's be average!" If the defense continues its climb in the top ten in turnover margin (they are currently at +1.29) they will be more than fine. The Cougars continue one of their greatest seasons in history this coming Thursday night at the Rob versus cross town rivals- the Rice Owls. Game time is 7pm(CST) and can be seen on Fox