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MU football: Right parts pay off for Herd

HUNTINGTON - Marshall offensive players say the greatest strides made in running this year's game plan weren't necessarily made on a practice field. They weren't done by making cuts and running patterns.

They were made running straight ahead, as fast and as long as the players could.

"All we did over the summer was run every day to get in shape for the type of offense we're doing," senior receiver Aaron Dobson said as Marshall (1-1) prepares to host Ohio (2-0) at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday in the Battle for the Bell.

"It helped a lot. We're not as tired on the field but the defense is getting tired."

That type of offense is a rapid-fire scheme that averages more than 30 plays more than the Herd ran last year. That adds up to more chances to score, fewer chances for the opposing defense to rest and a lot of happy players.

The final score sheets have the Thundering Herd down for 101 plays from scrimmage against West Virginia and 94 against Western Carolina, an average of 97.5 plays per game. That's up from the 65.6 plays Marshall averaged in 2011, including games of 50 plays against UCF, 57 against Virginia Tech and 58 versus East Carolina.

It's not that third-year MU Coach Doc Holliday didn't want to run more plays per game. He said that's been the goal since he arrived in 2010. He just didn't have the personnel until now to make it happen.

"When I took the job, I had one scholarship tailback," he said. "I had two walk-ons ... and I had one or two wideouts. To play at that pace, you have to play a lot of kids. If I went in there and ran 105 snaps with Aaron Dobson, which is all I had and a hurt (Antavious Wilson) that first year, he wouldn't have gotten to the fourth quarter.

"We had to modify it a little bit and it took some time to get the skill kids needed, and even the offensive line, to a point where I felt we could do it," Holliday added.

Now the Herd is to a point where Holliday can rotate in five running backs and at least 12 different receivers can catch a pass. But in order for it to work, every offensive player must have healthy lungs, even the linemen. Guard John Bruhin said players were told early that Marshall's offense was going to shift into the next gear.

"Coach Legg came into camp this year and said, 'Look guys, we're trying to run 20 or 30 more plays than we did last year every game. Get on your horses, because we're going to start moving,' " Bruhin said.

The Herd can see the benefits of that rapid pace already. Quarterback Rakeem Cato mentioned Kevin Grooms' 20-yard reception that started as a 5-yard out pattern.

"They were still getting the play from the sidelines and weren't paying attention," Cato said.

"I was just trying to get the ball in the hands of one of

the fast guys. I found Kevin Grooms and he made it possible."

Holliday estimates that, with an extra 30 plays per game, if they average at least four yards, that's an extra 100-plus yards of offense. That should translate into at least another score or two each game. What he knows is it reduces the chances of idle skill players and hurt feelings.

"When you have a lot of skill kids that are talented young guys, when they don't touch the ball, you have issues," he said. "That's normal. You want players who want the ball in their hands. If you snap it 65 times and some of those kids don't get to play, it creates issues.

"Whereas now, these kids are having fun, they know they're going to play," he continued. "They're all excited and can all make plays."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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