Marshall football: Butler begins season with big games
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Once again, Marshall running back Steward Butler wasn't the first to take a handoff in a Thundering Herd football game. But he was the player everyone was talking about after the Thundering Herd's 55-0 win over Gardner-Webb.
Butler ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries against the Runnin' Bulldogs, recording his third career 100-yard game and back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time with the Herd. He ran for 107 yards on 17 carries last week against Miami University.
The sophomore said his inspired play has come from a more physical running style endorsed by new running backs coach Thomas Brown.
"Last season, when we used to come up during contact, we were the nail and not the hammer," Butler said. "He took that out of us. When we see contact, we should accelerate. He always tells us to accelerate on contact. I make sure I tuck my head and not slow down on contact."
Essray Taliaferro took Marshall's first five carries of the game, gaining 32 yards. Butler took the next two and after getting dropped for a two-yard loss, he scored a nine-yard touchdown. His next carry came on a two-play, 15-second scoring drive, when he sprinted 46 yards for a touchdown. He added a 55-yard run later in the game and scored on a 13-yard run. He also caught an 18-yard pass and opened the game with a 45-yard kickoff return.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said Butler's game-day success comes from a renewed effort in practice in the preceding days.
"He plays like that on Tuesday and Wednesday," Holliday said. "We try to practice as hard as we can Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday throughout the week, so that when we come to game time, the games are easy.
"Stew has practiced extremely well the last couple of weeks," Holliday added. "He's living right and making good decisions. It's great to see him get rewarded for that."
THE HERD didn't make it out of the game 100-percent healthy. Defensive lineman Brandon Sparrow was helped off the field in the third quarter, putting very little pressure on his right leg. He spent the rest of the game on crutches with his right ankle wrapped.
Sparrow, a senior starter at nose tackle, has three tackles on the season, but the Herd could use his leadership when it visits Ohio at 8 p.m. Saturday for another "Battle for the Bell" on ESPNews. With the injury still fresh, Holliday said he'd have to wait and see about Sparrow's availability.
"You don't know," he said. "We'll see. Those ankles are tough, so we'll see how it goes. But if somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up."
CENTER CHRIS JASPERSE had a challenging night against Runnin' Bulldogs nose tackle O.J. Le'iatua Mau. Herd coaches had talked all week about the 6-foot-2, 302-pound sophomore's skill, calling him an NFL-caliber player.
It was Jasperse's job to hold him at bay Saturday and while Mau recorded six tackles, one for a loss and a quarterback hurry, the Gardner-Webb defense still got gashed by Marshall's offense to the tune of 509 yards, including 224 on the ground.
"He came out here and played his butt off tonight," Jasperse said. "I got after him a little bit. It put a chip on my shoulder. I had to work extra hard on Tuesday and Wednesday, because I knew I had this quality of a guy (to face). Hard work pays off."
THE TOUCHBACK PARADE continued for Marshall's special teams and freshman kicker Amoreto Curraj. After a couple of line drives and one short kick, Curraj started booming them again and recorded six more touchbacks. The Herd now has 12 on the season. It had nine on Holliday's previous three seasons combined as Marshall's head coach.
"He thinks he needs to kick it out of the stadium rather than out of the end zone sometimes," Holliday said. "And that's what happened to him early. He was just trying to kick it too daggone hard. He settled down and kicked it well."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.