OU, Herd will set fast pace
HUNTINGTON - On one sideline, you have a longtime assistant coach of Don Nehlen, one of college football's great advocates of the power rushing game.
On the other sideline, you have a man with deep Nebraska football roots, a Cornhusker who once topped 200 rushing yards in a game as a fullback. (Remember when fullbacks actually carried the ball?)
But when Marshall coach Doc Holliday and Ohio's Frank Solich match wits Saturday, you aren't going to see a lot of old-school, plodding football. Blink and you might miss a play.
Go to the restroom and you might miss 10.
With the development of Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato and the continued maturation of Ohio junior Tyler Tettleton, both teams are equipped to get to the line, snap and go. Marshall averages 97.5 snaps per game after two contests; Ohio averages "only" 84.
And there's room for even more. Last weekend, Louisiana Tech and Houston combined for 199 snaps in a 56-49 scorefest, with the losing Cougars snapping 115 times.
Just watching it can make a defender winded.
"Both teams will go at a very high pace and it shouldn't be an advantage to one team or another," Solich said at his press conference in Athens, Ohio. "I think we're both accustomed to doing it now, and you see it a lot in college football in this day and age, so you're going to be faced with it throughout the season, so you prepare for it early on and you condition yourself.
"We learned a valuable lesson against Troy [2010 New Orleans Bowl], and in learning that lesson I think it has helped us on both sides of the ball."
For a reference, Troy took a 38-7 halftime lead and cruised to a 48-21 win. The time of possession was nearly even, but the Trojans squeezed off 76 snaps to the Bobcats' 50.
That could be the three-quarter total Saturday, when the Herd and Bobcats renew acquaintances for the 52nd time. Kickoff time is at 6:30 p.m., and both offenses will hit the field running.
At Marshall, Holliday said he and offensive coordinator Bill Legg had the up-tempo attack in mind from the time they landed in Huntington in 2010. They just didn't have enough ponies to keep up.
"When I took the job, we had one scholarship tailback," Holliday said Tuesday. "When I took the job, we had one or two wideouts; that was it. When you play at that pace, you've got to play a lot of kids.
"If I went in there and rank 105 snaps with Aaron Dobson, which is about all I had [with] a hurt Tay [Antavious Wilson], he wouldn't have gotten to the fourth quarter. So we had to modify a little bit, and it took some time to get the skill kids needed, and even the offensive line to a point that we could do it.
"I think now we're at that point where we can continue to play fast and we have enough skill - we had 18 kids touch the ball the first game; I'm not sure exactly."
Actually, he hit that figure on the money - seven players ran the ball and 13 players caught a pass, with two backs doing both. Last week against Western Carolina, the number slipped to 15 - the same seven rushers, 10 catching a pass and two backs doing both.
Expect a considerable spread in the Herd's individual statistics throughout the season. After two games, seven players have five or more receptions and six have 50 or more receiving yards. Eight different players have scored touchdowns.
While all those snaps are helping Marshall average 580 yards a game, the depth helps players stay fresh. And happy.
"You've got a lot of skill kids, talented young guys [and] when they don't touch the ball, you've got issues," Holliday said. "And that's normal. I want good players who want the ball in their hands. If you snap it 65 times and some of those kids don't get to play, it creates issues.
"Whereas now, these kids are having fun, they know they're going to play, they're in rotation. I don't know how many wideouts, exactly, Gerad [Parker, receivers coach] is rolling in there, but every three or four plays you've got a new group running in there and they're all excited, they all can make plays. The same thing with running backs.
"I think it helps you overall, as far as team morale goes."
As much as Holliday wants his offense's morale to inflate, he wants the opposing defense's morale to deflate. Sort of like what happened to the Herd in last year's 44-7 loss in Athens, when the Bobcats used a quick, balanced attack to amass an equal 282 yards rushing and passing.
Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon expects Tettleton and the Bobcats to work even quicker on Saturday.
"I think the tempo was fast last year because we allowed it to be fast," Rippon said. "The only reason that the tempo was fast was because we were chasing them down the field. If we got them down, it was 20 yards downfield, so we had to get re-lined up.
"It wasn't like it is now, where they're pushing the envelope, coming back out, uncovering defenses, getting in the right play and those kind of things. And I think we're developing a sense of what we have to do, or want to do, in those situations.
"Their tempo going against our progression of learning the package and getting familiar with each other is something we're excited about and looking forward to for Saturday."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.