It was Homecoming, all right. Noisy and blaring, parades and alumni crawling all over the place. But you could still hear Marshall pat the University at Buffalo on the head.
The Bulls were overwhelmed, 48-14, in front of 30,128 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday evening.
Now imagine the misery of a Bulls team that fell to 1-7 overall and 1-5 in the Mid-American Conference and has two weeks to sort through the whole mess. At least the Bulls are not in the cellar of the MAC's East Division because Central Florida -- who lost at Miami (Ohio) Saturday night -- and idle Kent State have yet to win a league game.
"They're in the top of the MAC East at the moment for a reason," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "They went to Ohio State, they went to Georgia and they had opportunities against those two programs. They were not out of place by any stretch of the imagination. So that right there says something about what the level of their program is both to the MAC and to BCS football."
What Marshall did was submit further evidence on how far UB has to go to reach the upper level of the conference, even if the Thundering Herd (4-3, 4-0) has one foot out the door on the way to Conference USA next season. The Bulls are probably better off without Marshall on their schedule. While Marshall has not been as dominant lately, it was certainly far superior Saturday.
"They're probably the best in the MAC and will probably compete for the championship," said UB inside linebacker Jeff Bublavi. "They're a really good team and they made plays when they needed."
The margin was not the least bit shocking. Marshall had touchdown drives covering 61, 68 and 73 yards. It scored on a blocked punt when the game was well in hand. And Marshall quarterback Stan Hill had a lot to do with putting some room between the Bulls and Herd, not to mention UB's inability to move the ball through the air. Hill's imperfections were so few they stood out like a pimple on Halle Berry, and the Bulls couldn't capitalize on the two blemishes that did pop up.
With Marshall leading, 21-7, Hill threw back-to-back interceptions in the first half, the first by true freshman cornerback James Evans and the second by senior free safety J.J. Gibson. The Bulls went three-and-out following Evans' pick, but Gibson's interception gave UB its best field position of the half. Still, the drive suffered due to mental errors.
Gibson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, which pushed the Bulls back to the Marshall 31. UB ran three running plays to move to the Marshall 22, and went for it on fourth-and-1 until a false start penalty pushed them back to the Herd 27 and apparently out of field-goal range. Mike Baker was short on a 44-yard field-goal attempt, his third consecutive miss.
Quicker than a commercial timeout, Marshall sped ahead, 28-7, nine plays later when Josh Davis beat Gemara Williams on a 20-yard touchdown reception. The Herd was like a horizon: well in the distance and impossible to catch.
"We didn't take advantage of (the turnovers)," Hofher said. "It was as much of that we didn't execute well enough, as well as their defense is really good. They denied us a chance to be able to execute really well."
There weren't many bright spots for UB. There was Dave Dawson's 83-yard touchdown run in the first quarter -- the Bulls' longest since moving up to Division I-A in 1999 -- that tied the game at 7. There was P.J. Piskorik's 61-yard touchdown pass to Matt Knueven in the fourth quarter. It was Piskorik's first touchdown pass and Knueven's first TD reception of the season. It was also the Bulls' first touchdown by air in nine quarters.
It left them trailing by 48-14.
Peek over Marshall's stats and it's easy to see why the Herd dominated. Hill finished 19 of 26, passing for 269 yards and four touchdowns. No one in the Bulls' secondary could keep up with Davis, and Hill had no problem finding him (career-best 12 receptions, 132 yards and one touchdown).
The Bulls ran the ball well -- they finished with 202 yards rushing and Dawson had 101 on just five carries -- but once again they received few big plays at quarterback. Piskorik, who started for the second straight week, was just 10 of 22 for 101 yards although he did rush for 55 yards on 11 carries. Still, Hofher called UB's passing game "underwhelming."
You knew it was going to be a long day for the Bulls when they were whistled for a delay of game penalty on the opening kickoff. This was Marshall's game.
"To be a championship football team, which Marshall is, we have to work to become faster, stronger because that's what they are," Hofher said.