It was evident after Saturday’s 13-10 victory over Clemson that the Marshall players and coaches had underestimated the Tiger defense prior to the game.
“It was harder than I thought it would be,” said Herd quarterback and Heisman candidate Chad Pennington after leading Marshall to one of the biggest wins in school history.
Marshall coach BobPruett was also surprised by the Herd’s offensive difficulties.
“I didn’t expect the low score. I thought we’d score more points.”
Despite a fierce Clemson pass rush that netted four sacks, Pennington showed he is worthy of the pre-season hype in completing 29 of 44 pass attempts for 333 yards. In leading the Herd down the field late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown, Pennington came up big with the pressure on.
“True champions are the ones who make plays in the ends of games,” Pruett said. “Chad stepped up in tonight’s game.”
Pennington’s clutch performance made a believer out of Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.
“He made some big, big plays toward the end. We hit him pretty good but he still made the big plays. I think he and the guy from Purdue are picked in the top two (quarterbacks) in the nation. . .he’s very deserving of that kind of consideration.”
Early on, it appeared that the Herd would have no trouble with the Clemson defense. Marshall efficiently marched down the field on their first two possessions only to be stymied by the Tigers in the red zone. Marshall was forced to settle for two Billy Malashevich field goals from 24 and 22 yards, respectively.
By Marshall’s third possession, the Tiger defense had settled. Clemson held the Herd relatively in-check until Marshall’s final drive.
“Clemson has a good defense. The guys who played really good were their secondary,” Pruett said. Despite senior strong safety DoMarco Fox being limited by ankle and knee injuries, the Tiger secondary held Marshall’s talented receiving corps out of the end zone.
The Tiger defense was able to contain Pennington while virtually eliminating the Herd’s rushing offense. Marshall gained only 61 yards on 22 carries as the quicker Tiger defensive line consistently handled Marshall’s much larger front five.
Pruett credited conditioning in Marshall’s fourth quarter rally. Earlier in the week, Tommy Bowden had said conditioning was the only thing that he could control. After Saturday’s game, Pruett quipped, “I’m a coach that can control conditioning, too.”