HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When the Marshall University football team takes the field this morning to begin preseason camp, the Thundering Herd's offense will begin learning to live with great expectations. Its defense will by trying to defy the expectations others have for it.
For as many points as the Herd scored in an up-and-down 5-7 season in 2012, it allowed even more. The mission as the 2013 season draws closer is the same for both units - do what it can to push Marshall into the Conference USA title picture. For the offense, that means maintaining last year's ridiculous pace. For the defense, that means finding a way to climb from the Football Bowl Subdivision's defensive cellar.
Only six teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision averaged more than Marshall's 40.92 points per game last season. No team threw for more yards. Any opponents skeptical that the Herd could score in bunches were convinced after it beat Rice 54-51 in overtime in Game 4, the first of six games Marshall scored 41 or better.
Offensive lineman Chris Jasperse knows that, whenever the Herd takes the field this season, adversaries will expect a rapid-fire, scoring-happy group.
There will be no surprising opponents in 2013. But he feels that the unit's growing game experience will have it ready for defenses bent on stopping it.
"In 2011, a lot of us were freshmen out there on offense," Jasperse said. "Last year, a bunch were sophomores. Now we're all a year older, so we can hone our skills that much more and perfect everything we're doing to become better players."
As much focus as there is being put on Marshall's passing game and quarterback Rakeem Cato, now on the Maxwell, Walter Camp, O'Brien and Manning Award watch lists, the Herd's running game can pack more than a 1-2 punch. It can be as much as a four-blow combo. Last year's Conference USA freshman of the year Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Essray Taliaferro all have been effective in the backfield.
All four ran for at least 84 yards in a game last season. Taliaferro had just 31 carries all season before gaining 130 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in Marshall's season-ending double-overtime loss to East Carolina. That, Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said, could be one of the keys to continued offensive progress.
The one thing Marshall's offense can't do, Holliday said, is take a step back. To evolve, the Herd must be able to vary its tempo, to slow things down and milk the game clock when necessary and to grind out the tough one or two yards that can sustain drives.
"The thing (offensive coordinator Bill Legg) did a good job with a year ago, if you look at games offensively, it kind of took what that defense gave us," Holliday said. "We ran for 300 yards against Rice because they gave us the opportunity with the number of hats in the box. We were pretty balanced with run and pass. We were able to run the ball a little bit.