If Marshall head coach Doc Holliday did not have a quarterback controversy prior to the Herd's 45-7 thrashing of Norfolk State Saturday evening, he does now. Freshman quarterback Chase Litton made his first collegiate start in place of injured Michael Birdsong and turned in a record-breaking performance.
Litton finished 21-of-34 for 270 yards and four touchdowns in his debut while tossing passes to 11 different receivers, five finishing with multiple receptions. Litton's four touchdown passes was a first for a Herd starting freshman quarterback.
"I thought he made all the throws," Holliday said. "He (Litton) made good decisions, which is critical and he put the ball where it was supposed to go. That's where it starts. He got the ball to 11 different receivers, which was good. Then he did a good job on the option plays and third down situations, which is critical. He took care of the ball too. I thought for a first game it was tremendous."
Marshall (2-1) held Norfolk State (0-3) to 191 total yards of offense, with only 95 coming through the air. The Spartans earned only 11 first downs in the game and converted third down two tries out of 14 attempts.
The Spartans struck first to open the scoring in the contest after Greg Hankerson found Gerard Johnson in the flat for a 14-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Hankerson orchestrated a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Spartans first offensive touchdown of the season.
Litton marched the Herd down the field to the Spartans 14, only to have his sixth straight completion negated by a penalty. Litton found Deandre Reaves over the middle to move down to the Spartans 6, only to have the infraction move the Herd back to the 29. Marshall would settle for a 38-yard Nick Smith field goal, trimming the lead to 7-3 midway through the opening quarter.
Marshall avoided an early disaster after Keith Baxter was able to dive on Hyleck Foster's muffed punt, allowing Marshall to maintain possession near midfield.
Reaves would bookend a four play scoring drive with receptions of 22 and 13 to put the Herd on top 10-7 after the first.
"They came out hard and physical, and ended up scoring, so we needed to respond," Litton said. "The drive got killed because of penalties but we got three points and seven points after the next drive."
The duo of Litton and Reaves would hook up again, this time from 36 yards, on a spectacular fingertip grab by Reaves for his second score of the game and a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.
"[Chase] Litton placed the ball at the right place and no matter what, the receivers need to catch it," Reaves said. "I just jumped up and it fell into my hands."
Holliday said he wanted his best players on the field and that meant finding more of a supporting role for Reaves.
"I think he (Reaves) played well out there," Holliday said. "We've talked about getting him involved more and we tried to on punt and kick returns, but a lot of the kicks didn't go very far. He went in there at slot receiver and started and he played well for us."
Reaves led the Herd with four catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.
While the Spartans offense remained stuck in the mud, Marshall's offense was in the fast lane after a 13-play, 83-yard drive resulted in a 1-yard Devon Johnson touchdown run and a 24-7 lead at the break.
Johnson finished with 122 yards on 22 carries in the game. It was Johnson's 12th 100+-yard rushing game, tying him for third in the Marshall record books.
In six Spartans first-half possessions, Marshall forced five punts while allowing 160 total yards. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the second half would be worst than the first.
Marshall's offense stalled out of the locker room but regained its momentum from the first half on the second possession of the quarter. Litton fired his third touchdown pass of the game, hitting Davonte Allen on an 11-yard score and a 31-7 lead.
Another Spartan punt led to another Marshall score, but this time it would be a different freshman providing the points. Litton started the drive with a 19-yard run, but Keion Davis would cap off the 10-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge into the endzone and a 38-7 advantage after three. It was Davis' first score in his first collegiate appearance.
Marshall held Norfolk State to a mere 23 yards in the quarter.
Punting for the eighth consecutive time, Norfolk State found a reprieve after the Spartans recovered Foster's second fumble of the game. The reprieve however, would be short lived as Taj Letman hauled in his three interception of the season.
Marshall failed to cash in on the Hankerson misfire, but the Spartans offense simply was stuck in reverse after the series resulted in three plays netting minus two yards.
Marshall wasted little time adding to its lead as Litton hit Justin Hunt on a 25-yard post-route and a 45-7 lead.
"Some guys have ‘it,'" Holliday said. "They've kind of got that look in their eyes and they carry themselves a certain way. He (Litton) seems to have ‘it.'"
Altogether, Marshall would allow only one first down in the second half while holding Norfolk State to 31 total yards of offense.
"I thought the defense settled in after the first touchdown," Holliday said. "Their quarterback was a pain in the neck. He is quick and hard to get down. I thought we did a good job containing him, Old Dominion and Rutgers didn't do a great job containing him. We had some guys that were able to chase him down though."
Raheim Huskey led Marshall with 10 tackles, two for loss. Marshall turned in 12 quarterback hurries and seven tackles for loss in the game.
Marshall travels to Kent, Ohio Saturday for its final non-conference matchup against the Kent State Golden Flashes.