MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The turnover bug ended up taking a big bite out of the Herd.
Host Middle Tennessee State forced four turnovers and gained seven points from those takeaways en route to a 24-13 victory over the Marshall football team Saturday in the Conference USA East Division opener for both programs at Johnny ‘Red’ Floyd Stadium.
The Blue Raiders (2-3, 1-0 CUSA East) never trailed in the contest as the Thundering Herd (2-3, 0-1) felt the bite early on after throwing an interception on the opening play of their second possession.
MTSU needed only five plays to cover the 39-yard distance as Chaton Mobley bowled his way through from a yard out for a 7-0 edge with 8:35 remaining.
The guests, however, responded quickly as Armani Levias hauled in a pass from Isaiah Green and rumbled 75 yards to paydirt — tying things up at seven with 8:22 left.
The Blue Raiders countered with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a Crews Holt 21-yard field goal, giving the hosts a 10-7 cushion with 4:06 remaining in the first.
The guests committed their second turnover on the ensuing drive, but Marshall’s defense came up with a quick 3-and-out before taking over at its own 14.
The Green and White covered 78 yards in 11 plays before converting a Justin Rohrwasser 24-yard field goal with 10:45 left in the half for a 10-all tie.
The Blue Raiders decided on 22-yard field goal attempt on a fourth-and-goal, but Holt pushed the ball wide left to keep things knotted up with 7:42 left.
MU was forced to punt on its next drive, then Middle Tennessee capped a 6-play, 53-yard drive with an Asher O’Hara 4-yard scamper that resulted in a permanent lead at 17-10 with 3:42 left in the half.
The Herd countered with a 13-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a successful 24-yard field goal by Rohrwasser, making it a 17-13 deficit with three seconds left.
The hosts punted the ball away on the opening drive of the second half, then Marshall covered 82 yards on a dozen place before facing a fourth-and-1 at the MTSU 7.
The guests, however, were unable to pick up the three feet needed, and a turnover on downs gave the Blue Raiders possession.
MTSU again punted the ball away, and Marshall again was left looking at a fourth-and-3 at the hosts 24. An incomplete pass gave the Blue and Gray the ball back with 22 seconds left in the third canto.
Middle Tennessee needed eight plays to cover 76 yards as Zack Dobson hauled in a 36-yard pass from O’Hara with 12:43 left in regulation, making it a double-digit contest at 24-13.
Marshall’s ensuing drive ended in a loss of downs at the MTSU 22, and the Herd’s final two possessions resulted in a pair of Green interceptions inside Blue Raider territory — the last of which came at the 13-yard line with 23 seconds left in the game.
The missed opportunities showed in the final stats as the Green and White outgained the hosts by a sizable 578-401 margin in total yards of offense, as well as running 15 more offensive snaps (82-67) during the contest.
The Herd outrushed MTSU by a 202-140 margin on two extra chances and also posted a 376-261 advantage through the air. MU also claimed a 7:34 advantage in time of possession.
Brenden Knox led the Marshall ground attack with 99 yards on 19 carries, followed by Green with 95 yards on 16 carries. Green — who had a fumble late in the first canto — also completed 24-of-40 passes for 365 yards, including one touchdown and three interceptions.
Broc Thompson and Xavier Gaines each hauled in four passes for 53 and 32 yards, respectively. Levias and Willie Johnson added three grabs apiece for 94 and 79 yards. Ten different Herd receivers caught at least one pass in the setback.
Omari Cobb led the defense with 12 tackles, including two for loss. Kereon Merrell and Koby Cumberlander also recorded a sack apiece for the Herd.
O’Hara paced the Blue Raiders with 76 rushing yards on 17 carries and also completed 17-of-30 passes for 261 yards. Jarrin Pierce led the hosts with four catches for 74 yards.
Jovante Moffatt led the MTSU defense with 14 tackles and two interceptions. Tyshun Render also picked off a pass, while Reed Blankenship recovered a fumble.
After dipping below the .500 mark for the first time this fall, Marshall returns to action Saturday when it welcomes Old Dominion to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a CUSA East contest at 2:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.