HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When offensive players and coaches mention how an effective running game is a team effort more than any individual performance, they speak the truth, as the Marshall University football team is finding out right now.
What began the season as one of the most dominant ground games in college football has tapered off in the last few games. It has every part of the Thundering Herd offense shouldering some responsibility for its problems, and has them working toward answers as Marshall prepares for Thursday's 7:30 p.m. game at Middle Tennessee State University (Fox Sports 1).
At the season's start, it looked like Marshall's running game could be as explosive this year as the passing game was last year. The Herd averaged 264.0 yards on the ground in its first two games, with 5.5 yards per carry. Since those two games, the numbers have dropped significantly. The 139 rushing yards Marshall gained in its win over Florida Atlantic was the most in any of the last four games, where the Herd has averaged 128.25 yards per game and 3.15 yards per carry.
The Herd actually gained more total yards rushing in its first two games (528) than it has in its last four (513).
While Marshall (4-2, 2-0 Conference USA) remains at the top of C-USA's East Division standings, the offense would like to stir some of the echoes of its wins over Miami and Gardner-Webb, where the Herd gashed the opposing run defenses.
But there isn't one specific culprit for those problems. Players say there's plenty of blame to go around. The offensive line, shrinking due to injury and other departures and down to a seven-man rotation, hasn't been cohesive enough in its run blocking, according to redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse.
There are times, Jasperse said, that four guys may have it right in the blocking scheme, but one wrong step could lead to a tackle for loss.
"Every play, we have to make sure we have five guys doing the right thing," Jasperse said. "That one block's so crucial for us. If we don't get that backside guy cut off, boom, that's a loss right there. If we don't get the linebacker picked up, he's blitzing through and it's done. We have to make sure everybody's on the right page."
Tight end Gator Hoskins said Marshall's passing game must do a better job of relieving pressure from its run game.
He said defenses have been sneaking another player into the box for run support because that player hasn't been needed as much to help neutralize the Herd's passing game.