The 2018 football season did not start the way the Miami RedHawks (0-1) had planned.
Afternoon thunderstorms in Oxford tacked on a two and a half hour delay to what was supposed to be a 3:30 p.m. start-time for the Red and White’s battle against the Marshall Thundering Herd (1-0).
Once kickoff finally arrived at 6 p.m., the ‘Hawks came out flat, surrendering 14 crippling first-quarter points from which they’d never recover, falling a touchdown short in a 35-28 loss.
Both MU head coach Chuck Martin and Redshirt senior quarterback Gus Ragland immediately dismissed the notion that the delay played a part in Miami’s sluggish start.
“This game is crazy, dead-even in almost every statistical category, which is kind of what I thought,” Martin said. “I thought it was a dead-even game coming in. Getting behind 14 to nothing and chasing that the whole game was, obviously, critical.”
Down 14-0 halfway through the second quarter, Miami put together a solid offensive drive that charged into Thundering Herd territory. After a four-yard rush by Ragland brought up a 4th-and-two from the Marshall 30, Martin elected to go for it rather than attempt a long 47-yard field goal.
Redshirt senior running back Alonzo Smith was stopped a yard short on the ensuing fourth down, resulting in a turnover on downs and a missed opportunity for the RedHawks. The play was the first of Miami’s five fourth-down attempts. It converted two of them.
After the Herd went three-and-out on their next offensive possession, Miami went for it again on fourth down – this time on fourth-and-four from the Marshall 19-yard line. And this time, it paid off.
Ragland found Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jack Sorenson for a 19-yard touchdown to cut the ‘Hawks’ deficit to 14-7.
“It feels great that Coach Martin has faith in us to go for it on fourth down like that,” Ragland said. “A lot of teams would kick a field goal or do something different in that situation.”
But the Thundering Herd weren’t done.
Displaying its up-tempo attack, Marshall went 75 yards on 11 plays in just two minutes and 20 seconds of gametime to go up 21-7 on a one-yard touchdown run by Redshirt senior running back Anthony Anderson.
After a combined 16 yards on the teams’ first three drives after halftime, the Herd struck again, extending their lead to 28-7 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Greene to Redshirt senior receiver Tyre Brady.
Badly needing to gain some momentum, Miami started to wake up after Brady’s touchdown reception.
Another Ragland-to-Sorenson connection gifted the Red and White 54 yards to the Marshall three-yard line, before a defensive penalty advanced Miami to the one. From there, Smith punched it into the endzone to make it 28-14.
Following a Thundering Herd punt, Ragland and Co. picked up right where they left off, pushing the ball all the way inside the Marshall five-yard line. However, with four chances to make it a one-possession game, the RedHawk offense failed. The drive ended with a fourth-down incompletion from the two.
Even with the failure to put points on the board, the RedHawks’ offense was playing well – a stark contrast from the unit’s first few drives of the game.
“We just kind of stayed with what we had and started doing it better,” Ragland said.
On their next drive, the RedHawks went away from their usual methodical approach, striking for a passing touchdown to Redshirt sophomore tight end Andrew Homer on a three-play, 61-yard drive that took slightly under a minute.
Homer grabbed his first two career catches during the drive.
Two Marshall drives later, the Herd capitalized on a 50-yard punt return by Redshirt sophomore running back Tyler King with an 11-yard rushing score from Redshirt senior running back Keion Davis.
Miami made it 35-28 with a Ragland touchdown toss on its next drive, but Davis’s score proved to be the dagger.
The RedHawks went four-and-out on their last drive, allowing the Thundering Herd to run the clock out and claim a 35-28 season-opening road victory.
The loss moved the RedHawks to 5-9 (including the 2016 bowl game loss to Mississippi State) since their six-game winning streak to close out the 2016 regular season. It also dropped them to 5-18 in one-possession finishes in the Chuck Martin era.
Penalties played a big role in the game, as Miami committed eight infractions for a total loss of 71 yards, while Marshall was flagged seven times for a loss of 62 yards.
Marshall’s Greene – making his first collegiate start – impressed with 272 passing yards and two touchdowns. He added 41 yards on the ground and didn’t commit a turnover.
“He did a nice job and got the ball where it needed to go,” Martin said. “He protected the ball, and when we had a couple chances for sacks, he’s pretty big and athletic. He ran out of there and turned them into some positive plays.”
Ragland was able to shake off his first-quarter woes to have an impressive game. He finished with 357 passing yards and three touchdowns.
He was aided by Sorenson, who had 106 receiving yards and a touchdown.
“I’m super excited for Jack,” Ragland said. “I think he adds a whole ’nother dimension to our offense and, going forward, I can’t wait to see how much better he gets.”
Marshall’s Redshirt junior safety Malik Gant had a game-high 12 tackles and brought down Ragland for the Herd’s lone sack of the day.
Senior linebacker Junior McMullen led the ‘Hawks with nine total tackles.
The announced attendance at Yager Stadium was 15,827.
Miami will look to rebound this Saturday against the Cincinnati Bearcats (1-0) at the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium. The RedHawks have lost 12 straight against the Bearcats in the “Battle of the Bell” rivalry. The contest will kick off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3.