2019 0929 mu football

Marshall’s Willie Johnson (1) attempts to get past Cincinnati’s Jaquan Sheppard (39) on a kickoff return during an NCAA football game Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

It wasn’t even a contest.

It wasn’t even competitive.

It wasn’t even close to being either one.

Sure, theoretically Marshall University is at the very same level as the University of Cincinnati. But theory isn’t always reality. That is most certainly the case in this situation. Marshall is a member of Conference USA. Cincinnati is in the American Athletic Conference. Both are in the Group of Five along with the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference.

But assuming there is equality in the Group of Five would be a grievous mistake.

The Cincinnati Bearcats proved that beyond a shadow of doubt by humiliating Marshall 52-14 Saturday night in Joan C. Edwards in front of an announced crowd of 32,192.

Speaking of the crowd, it was emblematic of just how uncompetitive this game was. At first, Marshall’s fans booed the Herd’s poor performance and questionable play calls. But in the second half, Marshall’s fans didn’t even bother to boo. They just sat on their hands in stunned disbelief.

It was that bad.

It became more and more evident during the evening that Marshall and Cincinnati certainly do not compete on the same level.

The Bearcats?

They compete at the top level of the Group of Five along with the Mountain West.

The Herd?

It competes at the bottom level of the Group of Five along with the MAC.

It’s the ugly truth.

And oh my goodness, was it ever ugly Saturday night. Cincinnati jumped on Marshall so quickly and so efficiently, the Bearcats led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Marshall?

It ran only nine plays in the entire period.

It didn’t do anything but get worse from there. Cincinnati added two more touchdowns in the second period while Marshall continued to get mauled.

The halftime score was an embarrassing 28-0 shutout. And the fans? Many of them left and didn’t return.

Who could blame them?

The third quarter was merely the third chapter of a truly embarrassing performance. What’s worse, it was the third consecutive game that Marshall’s offense simply disappeared in the third quarter.

Talk about a trend.

Call it the “Third Quarter Fade.”

It started at Boise State with Marshall managing minus 10 yards on 14 plays with zero first downs and zero points. Next, in the third quarter vs. Ohio University, Marshall gained only 29 yards on 11 plays with one first down and zero points.

And against Cincinnati?

More of the same.

Marshall had only 12 yards total offense on 13 plays with zero first downs and zero points.

So, in three consecutive third quarters vs. FBS competition, Marshall has run 38 plays for 31 yards total offense with only one first down and zero points.

What is causing this trend?

It certainly appears to be an issue of halftime adjustments. Opposing coaches are making them and Marshall can’t seem to adjust.

That’s a continuing problem which is worthy of tracking. But did it have much bearing on Marshall’s disastrous performance Saturday night? Not really.

Cincinnati was so clearly superior to Marshall, the Bearcats took a 45-0 lead. The only reason the Herd wasn’t shut out was Cincinnati pulled its starters.

Now for the overview.

When Marshall head coach Doc Holliday addressed the Group of Five stretch that included consecutive games vs. Boise State, Ohio and Cincinnati, he noted that Marshall certainly would know where it stands within the Group of Five after the three games.

Well, now we know.

And it’s discouraging.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.