Marshall football: Effective rushing attack crucial for Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team's rushing totals were nowhere near what the Thundering Herd wanted in last week's 27-24 loss to Ohio. But, as offensive coordinator Bill Legg said, it wasn't for lack of trying.
But how could that be? The Herd threw 65 times, an all-time high at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. And while Rakeem Cato's 432 passing yards looked good, the 22 carries for 59 yards didn't.
Yet, Legg said, a significant number of those passes came on plays where Cato had the post-snap option of giving the ball to the running back or pulling it back and throwing a quick pass. And when Cato looked at the defense, he saw that the pass looked better than the run.
"What happened last week was out of however many times I called it - it was like 30 times I called it - we only handed it off nine," Legg said. "The other 21 times, he pulled the ball and he threw it. The touchdown to (Aaron Dobson) was a run-pass option. The touchdown to Jazz (King) was a run-pass option."
So Legg didn't have a problem with how many times the Herd ran the ball. He knows, however, that when Marshall visits Rice on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CSS/WCHS), the offense must be much more effective when it does run.
"What I told the kids is, when we hand it off, we've got to do a better job," he said.
The Herd (1-2) is ranked 91st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense, averaging 125.33 yards per game. Those aren't the numbers that rankled third-year Coach Doc Holliday after last Saturday's game.
It was the two fumbles and the interception on Marshall's final drive that bothered him most.
"The inability to run the football didn't lose the game for us last weekend," Holliday said. "The turnovers did. If we hadn't turned the ball over three times we would have won that game."
Holliday did say the running game still needed to improve. The 2.68 yards per carry the Herd averaged against Ohio didn't help its cause. Marshall failed to convert two third-and-1 situations in the second quarter that ended those drives at six plays and four plays, respectively. When Marshall punted away on those drives, Ohio came back to score and turned the Herd's 14-7 lead into a 17-14 halftime deficit.
As for where the running game issues lie, sixth-year guard John Bruhin said there isn't just one area that needs polishing.
"We have to just clean a lot of stuff up," Bruhin said. "We've got to get everyone on the same page - the backs hitting the right holes and the offensive line making the holes to start with. We just have to clean stuff up and come out and focus more on it. We've got to get better at the run game, that's just point-blank."
Redshirt freshman running back Remi Watson feels the rest of his stable is very close to turning things around.
"Everything we do, we're really just one step away," he said.
"It's not as bad as it looks. We just have to clean up those steps that we're missing and we're really just an inch away from turning out a big play in the run game."
The Owls (1-2) defense might allow Marshall to turn those totals around. Rice not only ranks 119th in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 290.33 yards per game, but it also ranks 109th in pass efficiency defense, allowing opposing quarterbacks a rating of 162.86. That should rev the engine of Cato and Marshall's passing game, the best in the FBS averaging 425 yards per game.
Not only would a win in Texas snap Marshall's winless streak in that state and erase the bad taste of the Ohio loss, it also would get the Herd off on the right foot in Conference USA play.
With defending champion Southern Mississippi losing its conference opener to East Carolina and defending West Division champion Houston reeling at 0-3, the door could be open for the Herd to climb the standings.
To ensure that, Legg said, the offense must grind out yards on the ground when the opportunities are there.
"Now if we go down to Rice and they defend the pass," he said, "we have to be able to run the ball 65 times as effectively as we threw it 65 times the past week."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.