Steward Butler leads Marshall with 258 rushing yards through two games.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's crazy to say this when your offense averages 550 total yards and 53.5 points per game, but Marshall coach Doc Holliday reiterated the caveat on his offense:"I've said from day one that we may not be as good on the stat sheets as we were a year ago, but we could be a better offense. That's kind of where we are at this point, and I'd like that trend to continue."Holliday certainly wants to continue that trend at 8 p.m. Saturday when his team takes on the Ohio Bobcats at Peden Stadium in Athens. He'd just be happy, one suspects, of bucking a few trends specific to that rivalry.A big one is run-vs.-pass balance. Even in Marshall's hyper-tempo offense, something close to a 50-50 split is preferred. Last year, the Herd threw 607 times and ran 480, or about 56 percent pass. So far this year, against two porous run defenses, there have been 96 runs vs. 72 passes, about 57 percent the opposite direction.It could continue that way, in the long run, if defenses continue to drop seven or eight defenders into coverage. Coordinator Bill Legg's offense, at any tempo, is predicated on one concept: Take what the defense gives you, and then take some more.Don't expect coach Frank Solich's Bobcats to drop eight defenders often. They didn't in the 2012 game when they held the Herd to 59 net rushing yards - 32 by quarterback Rakeem Cato. Three tailbacks were held to 27 yards on 16 carries.That forced Cato to throw it 65 times. Yes, he completed 44, then a school record, for 432 yards and three touchdowns, but his 65th toss was intercepted - the game-winner for the Bobcats.
Yes, balance is nice, especially when you have four experienced running backs as the Herd has. The funny thing about Marshall's stable is this: They were mostly invisible in last year's Ohio game.Remember that Travon Van carried 13 times for 15 yards, with Remi Watson and Steward Butler combining for just three. No carries from Kevin Grooms or Essray Taliaferro, either.That was one of the great mysteries of the Herd's 2012 season. By the next week, Butler and Grooms were blowing past the 100-yard mark at Rice and Van was a cornerback - for a game, before leaving the team and transferring to Montana.
This week, Grooms rejoins the backfield after sitting out the Gardner-Webb game. He also missed much of the opening win over Miami (Ohio), taken out after getting caught from behind on a 39-yard run. (When the man's healthy, that doesn't happen.)With Taliaferro leading the team in carries (31, for 133 yards) and Butler in yardage (258), Grooms is itching and twitching for a piece of that action."I wouldn't call it jealous," Grooms said. "But just watching another running back get in there and do his thing, with the competitiveness that we bring at the position, it makes me want to get out there and make a play."Holliday joked, "He should be fresh, that's for sure. He's not real happy with me, by the way."With only one-sixth of the schedule completed - one-seventh if the season really goes well - Cato is lagging behind his outrageous 2012 pace, yardage-wise. Remember, he threw for 4,201 yards, 350 per game.
There are purely positive factors that come into play there. One, Cato hit the sidelines for the final eight minutes of the Miami game and 20 minutes of the Gardner-Webb game, yielding to Blake Frohnapfel in games long decided. Marshall hasn't had many laughers in recent years, much less two straight.Another positive factor that may reduce the yardage for Cato and everybody else: defense. This time around, the Herd might not need 600 total yards to even have a shot of winning."Part of the reason the stats aren't as good is the defense is playing its butts off right now," Legg said. "I can't count the number of short fields we've had the first two weeks. You score 55 points and only have 500 yards, that normally doesn't compute. But the reason that's the case is we had about half our drives around 50 yards."I'll take that every day of the week. I hope it's that way the rest of the season."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.