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Marshall football: Herd running game playing at high level

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Lost the talk of the Marshall football team's gaudy passing numbers is the fact that the Thundering Herd's running game is playing its best since Coach Doc Holliday arrived on campus.

The Herd (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) enters Saturday's 8 p.m. game against Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) ranked fourth in Conference USA averaging 179.1 rushing yards per game. That's even better than the pro-style offense of UCF, which averages 169.3 yards per game.

And it's light years ahead of the Herd's running output the last two seasons. Marshall averaged 97.2 yards on the ground in 2010 and 120.1 yards in 2011. And Marshall's 17 rushing touchdowns this season are better than the last two seasons combined. The Herd scored seven rushing touchdowns in 2010 and nine in 2011.

Holliday not only credited the job co-offensive coordinators Bill Legg and Tony Petersen has done, but he also gave tons of credit to the new faces in some positions and the old faces playing much better in others.

"It's personnel driven," he said. "You can sit here and say what great offensive minds we've got up there in the box. We've got good players. Those three freshman running backs have made a difference. That offensive line is playing better now than any time since I've been here. They've played extremely hard and worked hard and they've come a long way and the receivers are blocking their tails off."

Marshall's freshman running back trio of Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson have 14 of the Herd's 17 rushing scores and all three are averaging more than five yards a carry. Grooms averages 6.6 yards, while Butler averages 5.8 and Watson averages 5.5.

"There's a lot of factors going into that, but we have the same coaches we've had for the last two years, going on three years now," he said.

"All of a sudden, we didn't just get smarter. We have better players now. I've always said it's a personnel-driven game, and I think we're getting to a point now, player-wise, where I think we've got a shot to be pretty good."

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EVEN AFTER the downpour in which Marshall and UCF played last season in Orlando, Holliday isn't wasting his time checking the weather forecasts and crossing his fingers.

"I don't worry about what I can't control," he said.  "It is what it is."

Last year's rains turned Bright House Networks Stadium into a swamp, which helped limit the Herd to 130 yards of total offense. And while Weather.com has clear skies and warm temperatures in Huntington for most of the week, Saturday's forecast is calling for a 30-percent chance of rain.

If rain does fall, at least the Herd won't play the game in a mudbog, thanks to the FieldTurf installed at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2006. Marshall still must brave any elements, defensive end Alex Bazzie said.

"Regardless," Bazzie said, "we have to play in it."

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MARSHALL SENIOR Andre Snipes-Booker should be ready for Saturday's game, Holliday said.

The receiver/punt returner limped out of last Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi and was replaced at punt returned by receiver Tommy Shuler, who returned one punt for five yards.

Defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel also should be ready for the UCF game, Holliday added.

Samuel didn't make the Southern Miss trip due to an unspecified injury.    

 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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