ST. PETERSBURG, FL - DECEMBER 20: Running back Tron Martinez #2 and wide receiver Aaron Dobson #3 of the Marshall Thundering celebrate after a 20 - 10 victory against the Florida International University Panthers December 20, 2011 in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A look at the numbers that mattered in Marshall's 20-10 upset of Florida International in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.
251: Total yards gained by Florida International. Marshall's defense had to come up big for the Thundering Herd to have a shot, as a young offense just wasn't going to be able to make a ton of plays against a strong FIU defense. Mission: accomplished. In 12 possessions, Florida International was forced to punt nine times and lost a fumble. They were completely unable to build and/or sustain any offensive momentum. They followed up their only touchdown drive by gaining 12 yards and punting. They followed up their field goal with a three-and-out. And they didn't advance inside the Marshall 40 in the game's final 35 minutes.
35.5: Marshall's average starting field position. That was 7.2 yards better than that of FIU. Even with stellar defense, Marshall still had little margin for error. They needed to win the field position battle (check), produce something special in special teams (check -- see: fourth-quarter blocked punt) and probably force a key turnover as well (check -- T.Y. Hilton fumbled crossing into Marshall territory with under five minutes remaining). This was a Doing The Little Things clinic, and it earned them a bowl championship trophy, just their second since 2002.
25: Length of this catch by Marshall's Jermaine Dobson:
Throw in a pretty touchdown catch, in coverage, by Aaron Dobson (who caught seven of 10 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns for the game), and you can add this to the Little Things™ resume. They made the little plays, and they the tough plays.
7.9: Average gain of Florida International plays involving T.Y. Hilton. He was targeted 11 times, caught eight passes for 88 yards, and carried the ball three times for 23 yards. It is very unfortunate that his final touch as a Golden Panther was a fumble, but all in all, he had himself a decent day, gaining 111 yards in 14 targets/touches. The problem: FIU's other 45 plays gained just 140 yards, a paltry 3.1 per play. Passes not to Hilton found their mark just 12 of 21 times for 75 yards, while running backs Darriet Perry and Kedrick Rhodes combined to gain just 64 yards in 19 carries. Marshall let Hilton do a bit of damage (but not too much), swallowed up every other option on the field, and then stripped Hilton at a key time to boot.
We become attached to certain players the more we watch college football. I have made no attempt to hide my admiration for and enjoyment of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, for instance, going all the way back to 2008. As with many other college football fans/writers, Hilton has been one of my favorite mid-major players for a while, and I really hate that he went out not only with a loss, but with a key fumble. Still, one has to give serious credit to Marshall for playing mostly error-free football, limiting the damage done by FIU's athleticism, and making the plays to win. This was a stellar effort by a team that had to pull two solid upsets just to become bowl eligible. Congrats to Doc Holliday and the Marshall program.