Tech shuts out Alcorn State in season opener

Photo by Casey Gomez

If you expected a blowout, you weren’t disappointed. Tech (1-0) rolled over Alcorn State (0-1), racking up 41 points while shutting out the Braves. Taquon Marshall was typically dominant, rushing for 2 touchdowns and 181 total yards, complemented by Kirvonte Benson’s rushing prowess, who picked up 2 touchdowns and 75 rushing yards in only three quarters of play, and Jordan Mason, who posted 85 rushing yards and 1 touchdown.

Marshall has mixed passing game

One of the bigger storylines entering the season was how Marshall, a breakout star for Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, could improve on his already superb game. In an interview earlier this season, Johnson said that he’d like to see Marshall improve on his passing game, ideally with a completion rate of 50 percent or higher. Alcorn State, which held opponents to a 51 percent completion rating last season, did their part to limit Marshall’s opportunities, but Marshall was frequently off-target in the first half. Marshall’s first pass attempt of the year was a good five feet wide from his target, Qua Searcy, and it set the scene for the rest of the game, as Marshall struggled to hit his man, and narrowly missed being intercepted multiple times.

Marshall did improve on his passing in garbage time during the third quarter, leading a 97-yard drive capped off by a 24-yard touchdown pass to Brad Stewart, which inflated his numbers – Marshall was just 4-12 in the first half with 25 passing yards in the first half, but went 5-6 with 79 on the garbage-time drive. Johnson substituted Tobias Oliver in at QB following the drive, which ended Marshall’s day on a high note – but the gaudy first-half passing remained.

Postgame, Marshall blamed his first-half struggles on his confidence. “After missing a couple balls, I got really frustrated with myself. Second half, during the first couple short routes…[I] built my confidence back up and then I was just trying to play at that point.” It’s too early to read into half-game long results against FCS teams, but when Marshall was in a rhythm, he was on. Marshall finished the game 9-18-1 with 104 yards.

Defense Faces First Test

Alcorn State would never be considered an offensive juggernaut compared to an FBS opponent; the Braves averaged just 31 points per game last season while playing in the less-than-competitive SWAC. For fans looking for a litmus test to see if new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s 3-4 scheme is up to par, this was not it.

But at the very least, Tech’s defense did not crumble. They made their plays. And they completely dominated a lesser team’s offense – as any good teams’ defense should. Woody read the offense well, and limited Alcorn State QBs Felix Harper and Noah Johnson to a combined 69 passing yards and 15-23-1 line. Redshirt junior David Curry added a fumble return for a touchdown early in the third quarter.

There were missed opportunities – a dropped interception by Zamari Walton might have easily resulted into another touchdown for Tech, and the defensive linemen had their fair share of broken tackles. But for a new defensive scheme in their first game, a combination of inexperience and rust is to be expected. For now, Tech’s defense looks solid (a welcome improvement from last season), even if it has yet to be seriously tested. And hey, it looks damn good for Nate Woody’s resume that his defense helped Tech record its first shutout since 2013.

Camp’s Catch Controversy

Junior W.R. Jalen Camp posted a catch for the highlight reel in the second quarter, hauling in a long Marshall pass that almost went out of bounds. Camp went full-extension and snagged the ball just before it went out of bounds with one hand before bringing it down cleanly.

However, the catch was called off by officials initially, and then upon review, the call on the field was upheld. Tech players voiced that Camp’s catch should have counted postgame – Freshman B-Back Jordan Mason swore that “[Camp] was in,” and Marshall said that “the toe was down… it was definitely a catch”. Coach Johnson refused to comment on the officiating postgame – when asked for comment, he replied with a smile, “You’re not going to get me on that one. Next!”