Thundering Herd routs USM, 59-24

Published 1:10 am Monday, October 22, 2012

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Rakeem Cato threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and Kevin Grooms added a pair of scores on the ground as Marshall eased past winless Southern Mississippi 59-24 Saturday night.

Cato completed 22 of 31 first-half attempts as the Thundering Herd (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) built a 31-17 halftime lead on 374 yards of total offense.

“It’s a great win.” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “It was a great team out there. It was the first time we played a full team effort. I thought special teams were tremendous. I thought defense played their tails off and the offense, with the exception of one time, moved the ball well.”

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The first passing touchdown came early in the second quarter. Cato connected with Antavious Wilson on a wide receiver screen for a 14-yard score, giving Marshall a 17-3 lead.

Southern Mississippi (0-7, 0-3) responded with Kalan Reed’s 19-yard interception return for a score, but Grooms answered three plays later with a 64-yard TD to put the Thundering Herd up 24-10.

Desmond Johnson capped Southern Mississippi’s only sustained scoring drive in the first half with a 22-yard touchdown run to cut the Marshall lead to 24-17. But the Golden Eagles never got any closer.

Cato connected with Tommy Shuler for touchdown passes on consecutive possessions in the second half, and Grooms scored from 11 yards out, extending Marshall’s lead to 45-17 at the end of the third quarter.

The Thundering Herd exploded for 629 yards and set a season-highs in scoring and rushing with 275 yards on 42 carries. Grooms led the way with 120 yards on 12 carries. Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Essray Taliaferro each added a touchdown and combined for 155 more yards.

“Those young running backs can go,” Holliday said. “I thought we blocked well, especially our wideouts. It was just overall a fun game to watch when the three phases came together and we played extremely well.”

The 59 points was the most allowed by Southern Mississippi in 16 years of Conference USA competition. The Golden Eagles didn’t force a Marshall punt until the 1:32 mark in the second quarter, and the Herd scored four touchdowns and punted twice on six possessions in the second half.

The Marshall defense, which came into Saturday ranked 120th in scoring, held Southern Mississippi to 331 yards of offense and forced three turnovers.

“I’m surprised and disappointed,” first-year Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said. “We’re back to point zero. We’re going to have to start all over and find out who wants to play ball.”

The loss makes seven straight for Southern Mississippi — the worst start for the Golden Eagles since 1976, when they opened the season 0-8. The defending Conference USA Champion is now guaranteed its first losing record since 1994. It had finished .500 or better in 17 straight seasons.