As the No. 4 ranked offense in the nation, averaging over 550 yards per game, Marshall was limited to its lowest total offensive production of the season (364 yards) by UCF and fell to the Knights on Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, 54-17.
Marshall dropped to 3-5 (2-2 C-USA) with the loss, while UCF earned its fourth win in a row and stayed unbeaten in league play, moving to 6-2 (4-0 C-USA) for the season.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato finished 35-of-62 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore hit 11 different targets during the night, but was sacked four times in the process.
Ranking as the No. 2 player in the nation for receptions per game, Tommy Shuler led the Thundering Herd with eight grabs and finished with 64 yards. Marshall's two touchdowns of the night were hauled in by tight end Gator Hoskins, who finished with 59 yards, and Antavious Wilson, who had seven catches for 55 yards.
"I felt early on that we had some opportunities to make some plays and just didn't," said Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. "We had several dropped balls early in the game that would have converted into first downs. We took the ball down the field a couple times early in the game and just didn't capitalize on them."
Marshall's defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Defensive back Derek Thomas picked off UCF on its opening drive, while linebacker Billy Mitchell spoiled UCF's attempt in the redzone early in the first quarter, grabbing an interception and returning it 25 yards.
UCF's offense was fueled by six total touchdowns, four of which came from running back Latavius Murray. The redshirt senior recorded 156 yards rushing off of 16 attempts, earning a 9.8 rushing average. As a whole, the UCF running attack booked 278 yards, compared to Marshall's 66.
"It's obvious that we didn't play well tonight in all three phases," continued Holliday. "Losing is unfortunate and disappointing. We just didn't play well offensively, defensively or on special teams. Give Central Florida credit, they are a great team. They're well coached and they came in here and beat us."
The Knights' other two touchdowns were earned on special teams as Quincy McDuffie returned two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The wide receiver brought back a 97-yard return to give UCF its first touchdown in the game and repeated the feat to open the second half, taking it back from the 2-yard line.
Marshall's offense was staunched throughout the night as UCF recorded 11 tackles for loss, earned seven pass breakups and forced 10 quarterback hurries. Cato was held under 300 yards passing for only the second time this season.
Marshall earned the first points of the game after a 13-play, 53-yard drive was topped off with a 43-yard field goal from Justin Haig, giving him his second longest kick of the season.
The Knights responded with 27 unanswered points in the first half, sparked by McDuffie's kickoff return for a touchdown. Murray ran in two touchdowns in the opening period, including a 75-yard touchdown run to end the first half. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles also added a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey.
The Herd ended the scoring drought late in the second quarter, trimming the UCF lead before closing the half by paying a visit to the endzone for the first time all evening. Cato floated in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wilson to cut the score to 27-10 at halftime.
McDuffie's kickoff return to open the second half marked the first time in UCF history a player had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a game.
The Knights controlled the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns and holding Marshall scoreless in the quarter.
Murray added his third and fourth touchdown in the period, taking in a 20-yard pass from Bortles and adding a 42-yard run to extend the UCF lead to 47-10.
Marshall opened the third quarter with a 17-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard pass to Hoskins to give the Herd its final touchdown of the night.
UCF's Brynn Harvey closed the game with a final 21-yard touchdown run to make the final score 54-17.
Marshall will return to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for its next game against Memphis. The game will start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.