With the divisional placeholders for the Conference USA title game still left empty, Marshall skated by on the legs of Brenden Knox’ 146-yard performance to silence FIU 30-27 in a home overtime victory, claiming their eighth win of the season with championship hopes on the fringe.
Needing a win over the Panthers to even have a solid shot, Doc Holliday’s Thundering Herd await the final result of the Florida Atlantic-Southern Miss matchup in Boca Raton to have word of which program will represent the East division in 2019’s edition of the C-USA Football Championship Game. This would be Marshall’s third appearance in the title game and their first since 2014, a 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech.
Dreary, wet and cold at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, both teams were taken advantage of by the elements in a slow start that became a poorly played showing in its entirety, marred by ineffectiveness in moments of pressure. Going a combined 5 for 16 on third down in a first half that included nine punts, the lone touchdown which gave Marshall their 10-7 halftime lead was in fact a 20-yard trick play run design for the tight end Xavier Gaines.
After a Panther punt on the first possession of the second half, Marshall would orchestrate a 12-play drive that took them nearly six minutes to go 50 yards primarily on the ground through Knox, ending with an Isaiah Green short touchdown to extend the lead to 17-7. The redshirt sophomore Green was a rather unimpressive 9/20 passing for 90 yards on the day, highlighting what has been an up-and-down year for the Fairburn, Georgia native through the air.
The entire bread-and-butter for the Thundering Herd all season has been the presence or non-presence of their all-conference running back Brenden Knox, who answered the call today in the rain against Conference USA’s worst rushing defense statistically. Bowling balling his way to almost 150 yards, player of the game privileges are almost a gimme, as without his services Marshall could’ve very well been exposed multiple times throughout Saturday and in 2019.
FIU would respond with a grueling drive of their own, using starter James Morgan and wildcat quarterback Kaylan Wiggins to display different sets, driving 75 yards decisively before an Anthony Jones carry from nine yards out brought the Panthers within a field goal through the death of the third quarter starting off the fourth. James Morgan had 236 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his final C-USA game as a college quarterback. Morgan finished with a QBR of 40.9, his second worst conference performance all year.
Bobbling the first snap of the coinciding drive, Isaiah Green handed the Panthers the football with outstanding field position, which they’d take immediate advantage of on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to senior receiver Tony Gaiter IV, who finished his day with a career high 9 catches for 107 yards.
After continuing the narrative of missing out on given opportunities through much of the fourth quarter, Marshall’s Tavante Beckett would snag his first interception of the year, and Justin Rohrwasser would miss a 45-yard field goal before the next points were scored on an 18-yard dime in the backside corner from Green to Xavier Gaines for his second score of the day, giving the Herd a 24-21 lead with just over two minutes to play in Huntington. Four completions to the playmaking Gaiter on their drive put the Panthers in range of a 41-yard field goal, one Jose Borregales spliced down the middle to send this one to overtime knotted up at 24.
Two short carries and an incomplete pass led to Butch Davis settling for a 35-yard field goal, giving the Panthers another 3-point advantage putting Marshall in place to settle with fate. On their first play, Brenden Knox did Brenden Knox things, scampering 24 yards before being stopped at the goal line. Punching it in for the game-winning touchdown on the next snap, the Thundering Herd capped an underwhelming performance with a win behind their bell cow yet again.
Marshall won the time of possession battle in this game by nearly seven minutes, and committed five fewer penalties despite both teams turning the ball over one time. Marshall and FIU were a combined 9 for 31 (29.0%) on third down conversions.
Marshall (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) awaits a FAU-Southern Miss result that isn’t exactly a good probability, but a probability nonetheless. Having beaten three of the top four teams in the conference, the losses to MTSU and Charlotte come back to haunt the Herd in hindsight. Isaiah Green and Brenden Knox are both slated to return for MU in 2020, setting the tone for what could be yet another title-contending team to build on.
Florida International (6-6, 3-5 C-USA) gave their fan base glimmers of excitement with last weekend’s victory over the Miami Hurricanes, but this loss was characteristic of how the Panthers performed in the grand scheme of the 2019 season. Giving up huge numbers on the ground is not a recipe for success, but the Panthers are bowl eligible with an opportunity to continue practicing in preparation for one more with their group of seniors.