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Devon Johnson Leads Marshall Past Feisty Florida Atlantic

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A game that few saw coming ended with Marshall finally running away from the Owls in the second half on the legs of Devon Johnson. In a day where Marshall's passing offense struggled to find any rhythm, "Rockhead" went over the 1,000 yard mark on the season and broke the Herd's single-game rushing record.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was a little more interesting than I think anyone expected. For the first time this season, Marshall was held under 40 points by an FAU team fresh off giving up 45 to Western Kentucky. But Florida Atlantic struggled to adjust to Chuck Heater's second half defensive adjustments and Marshall rode the legs of Devon Johnson to an eventual 35-16 victory. While they struggled early, the Herd faced adversity and made the late adjustments against a good FAU team that is better than their record. What this game shows is that the Herd needs to be ready for EVERYONE'S best shot for the remainder of this season.

For the Herd's passing game, Rakeem Cato seemed to be out of rhythm with his receivers for the majority of the game. Cato finished the game 13-24 for 218 yards and 1 touchdown. Receiver Deon-tay McManus surpassed 100 yards late with a highlight 33-yard reception to set up Johnson's final touchdown. Tommy Shuler caught a stop route and broke one tackle before diving in for the 21-yard touchdown reception. If the Herd wants to continue to their ultimate goal, the passing game HAS to get in rhythm for the rest of this season.

With the Herd, the majority of their offense was big runs up the middle by Devon Johnson. Johnson had touchdown runs of 58, 62, and 66 yards, before capping off his day with a 7 yard rush to round out the days score at 35-16. On the day, Devon Johnson broke Ron Darby's single game rushing record which stood for over 25 years. Without Remi Watson, Steward Butler received a few carries, but Johnson carried the ball 24 times, averaging 11.3 yards per carry. The offensive line opened up holes that Johnson got through untouched.

The Herd defense struggled early with FAU's tempo. The Owls changed tempo early and put Marshall in some bad situations and some bad personnel groupings. Early in last week's game against FIU, Marshall's defense was getting pushed off the ball before Chuck Heater made adjustments and shut down the Panthers offense in the second half. This week, Marshall's adjustments became obvious as the defensive line got after Jaquez Johnson early in the half. Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes both had 18 tackles from their linebacker positions to lead all tacklers.

FAU's offense went out and attacked Marshall early, blowing the Herd off the line and using their tempo to force plays downfield and get into Herd territory. The only problem the FAU offense had in the first half was finishing off their drives. FAU had to settle for 3 first half field goals. In the second half, FAU did not adjust to what Marshall had changed after the break. Individually, Lucky Whitehead got his catches and went over 100 yards receiving. While no FAU rushing went over 100 yards, Greg Howell ran for 92 yards and Jaquez Johnson ran for 61 yards.

FAU's defense was not blowing the Herd off the line, but FAU adjusted and prevented the big play for the most part, outside of Johnson's big runs. D'Joun Smith could have had 1 interception on Cato, but a controversial pass interference wiped it out. FAU's defense did adjust to Marshall's late vanilla play-calling on 3rd and short and 4th and short, getting a rare late push against the Herd's offensive line. As the game wore on, FAU's defense just seemed to be getting worn out by Johnson's push up the middle.

Player of the Game

Devon Friggin' Johnson. Seriously, who else could anyone possibly pick. Johnson went over 1,000 yards in the first quarter, becoming the quickest Marshall running back to reach 1,000 yards in a season. Johnson did this while beating Ron Darby's single game rushing record by 10 yards with three huge runs. While Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes both finished with 18 tackles, but the offense was so much better with Johnson on the field. It is even more impressive when you factor in Johnson did this while coming on and off the field, especially in the first half, with ankle problems.

When It Was Over

The fourth down sack of Jaquez Johnson by Arnold Blackmon with 5:51 left was when it was finally over. Chuck Heater's defense made a lot of mistakes early and allowed FAU to move up and down the field at will. The Herd d stepped up in the second half, shutting out the Owls in the second half. The Owls really only mounted one good drive in the half, but Darryl Roberts broke up the 4th down pass. After Devon Johnson's third touchdown, FAU moved the ball, but Blackmon's fourth down sack ended any threat from the Owls.

Where We Go From Here

Marshall showed that they can overcome early difficulties to get the job done. Today also showed Marshall that they need to be ready for everyone's best shot for the rest of the year. I don't think anyone thought that Marshall would be able to run FAU off the field, but required a superhuman effort from Devon Johnson to get late separation from the Owls. Marshall has also shown their past two weeks the ability to make halftime adjustments, even if they come out as flat as they did Saturday. However, if Marshall brings a similar effort against a team like Rice, UAB, or Western Kentucky, their goal of a perfect season will fall short.

Another Personal Note to Herd Fans

You have a top 25 team trying to keep an undefeated record. You have a 3:30 local time kickoff. You have perfect late October weather in Huntington. You have the ability to get tickets for $15-$20 in the endzone and slightly more on the sideline. Today's attendance was announced at just over 27,000, but did not look quite that good on TV. I am over six hours from Huntington, so getting to games in person is hard for me personally, and I wish I could get to more. If Marshall fans want to truly get into another higher conference, Herd fans have to fill Joan C. Edwards Stadium. With a few games remaining against teams like Rice, Western Kentucky and a potential conference championship game, Marshall fans need to fill the stadium.