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MU football notebook: Special teams mistakes mounting

November 5, 2017 GMT

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Under Marshall University football head coach Doc Holliday, special teams are given added importance.

Holliday doesn’t just expect his team to win the special teams battle, he expects the Thundering Herd to dominate the special teams play.

In the last two losses for the Herd, that didn’t happen. There were numerous examples Friday in Florida Atlantic’s 30-25 win against the Herd.

Inconsistency is likely the best way to describe Friday’s special teams play.

There was a bit of genius with Kaare Vedvik recovering a well-timed onside kick that gave the Herd possession following a touchdown to start the second half.

It was a momentum-swinging play that worked in the Herd’s favor and, after being down by 13 at the half, the Herd got into the end zone twice to have a chance at the lead.

However, Vedvik missed the extra point that would’ve given Marshall the lead following the second score, and that seemed to breathe a bit of life back into the Owls. Instead of Marshall getting over the hump, the Herd simply drew back even.

That, along with a missed field goal in the first half, are points that loom much larger in a five-point contest. Instead of feeling the pressure of needing a touchdown late, Marshall could’ve only needed a field goal to tie in the waning seconds.

The other play that stands out came with just eight seconds left.

Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin made a miscalculation trying to run all the time off the clock following an interception with 2:30 left, and the error resulted in the Owls’ Ryan Rickel running out of the back of the end zone for a safety that made it a five-point game and forced a free kick.

The subsequent kick by Greg Joseph was a squib and bounced perfectly to Marshall’s Eli Gates, who could’ve immediately gotten down and given the Herd possession at the FAU 45 for one last heave into the end zone. Instead, a scramble of laterals ensued and the end result was an illegal forward pass and time running out on the Herd’s loss.

It was a play that did not make Holliday happy.

Punt returns are still a bit of an anomaly for the Herd as well after a negative return that set up the Herd inside its own 5-yard line to start a drive.

On the season, Marshall has 17 punt returns for a total of 21 yards with several returns of negative yardage.

The special teams game had a lack of production in the last two weeks, which Holliday laments. Instead of a strength, special teams play has been average at best.

SINGLETARY THE REAL DEAL: Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary came into Friday’s game as one of Conference USA’s better players.

Barring some crazy swing down the stretch, Singletary should end up as the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year.

The sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Florida, finished with 203 rushing yards on 28 carries with a touchdown for the Owls. It wasn’t just the yardage total. It was how Singletary got it - many yards off avoiding tackles and after first contact.

His 13-yard touchdown run was the game’s biggest play, and it went virtually unnoticed by most.

With FAU leading by seven and a hard, driving rain starting to fall, Kiffin made a smart play by trying to call conservative and get a field goal to make it a two-score game. On third down, Marshall’s defense got into the backfield and got hands on Singletary, but he made a jump cut before busting through the line and finding an open seam to the end zone.

He also had a big 66-yard burst in which he made Marshall’s linebackers miss, setting up a field goal that put the Owls up 16-3 at halftime.

And, for good measure, he leaked out of the backfield on a double-pass and ran under a Kamrin Solomon heave for a 60-yard score that gave the Owls the lead again after Marshall had tied up the contest.

Each time the Owls needed a big play, it was Singletary who came up the biggest.

Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2860. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.