Marshall football: Offensive line shows depth
HUNTINGTON - College football coaches love using the word "multiple," whether it's multiple offensive formations or multiple defensive schemes.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday is happy he can use that word with his offensive line.
The Herd's front five had not been able to dodge injuries at all this year, and it was evident during Marshall's 38-28 win over Memphis. Garrett Scott, who has started four games at right tackle, started at right guard in place of the injured John Bruhin.
Yet the moving pieces on the offensive line haven't slowed the unit down. It's a level of comfort Holliday is pleased to have as Marshall (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) visits the University of Alabama at Birmingham (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (CSS/WVAH).
The starting lineup versus Memphis of Jordan Jeffries at left tackle, Alex Schooler at left guard, Chris Jasperse at center, Scott at right guard and Gage Niemeyer at right tackle was the fifth different starting lineup on the offensive line this season. Only Jeffries and Jasperse have started every game at the same position.
"The past two years, we wouldn't have had the ability to do that," Holliday said. "We had five guys and that was the extent of it. Now we have seven, possibly eight guys who can go out there and at least function."
And Jasperse admitted that, while he started at center, he practiced the entire week before the Memphis game at guard because of injuries. But it wasn't a problem. Scott, who played guard last season, slid to Bruhin's spot. Schooler has started at left and right guard this season. And Niemeyer, who has started at right tackle when Scott was hurt, moved back into the first team.
"We pride ourselves on O-line in learning multiple positions," Jasperse said. "So if someone goes down, you can have your best five in the game. That's what we have to do. We need to put our best five on the field, no matter what position they play."
Scott, a junior, has the experience at guard, but said the different look - being sandwiched between two linemen and setting up in a three-point stance rather than taking his hand off the ground - still took some getting used to.
"It changes a little bit," he said. "I had less space to work with, so it kind of helped me out, being in between the center and the tackle. It made my job seem a little bit easier, but I had to work against linebackers more, which I wasn't used to."
Marshall's offense remained explosive, gaining 433 yards, including 341 passing yards from quarterback Rakeem Cato. As much as linemen have shuffled this season, the Herd ranks sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense (530.67 yards per game), second in passing offense (374.33 ypg) and 13th in scoring (39.67 points per game).
Cato said the moves between linemen have been so seamless, he can't tell when one player leaves and another moves in.
"When I'm back there, I really don't notice," he said. "I just go out, have fun and just play. Whoever is in there, I believe in them and trust they can get the job done."
Jasperse isn't worried about whether the injury bug will chomp down on an offensive lineman again this season. He just assumes it will. But he knows the rest of the unit will be ready to shift where they need to go to keep the offense humming.
"Everybody gets banged up and everyone the country is going through the same thing we're going through right now," Jasperse said. "As many plays as we play, it's like, what's going to happen next? You just have to be prepared and you have to make sure that, as an offensive line, we know multiple positions. When somebody goes down, the next guy goes in or the next guy slides over."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.