HUNTINGTON — Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said that one positive jumped out to him when breaking down his team’s 35-20 win over Charlotte last week.
“The positive is that we had 29 first downs and we rushed the ball for 308 yards,” Clark said. “That’s a positive in that kind of weather condition.”
The game in Boone, North Carolina, was played in steady rain throughout, which meant Appalachian State leaned more on its rushing attack. The converse of that is that Charlotte’s defense also knew the Mountaineers were going to run the football and stayed loaded up against the run.
Even knowing what was coming, the 49ers just couldn’t stop it.
That strong rushing attack also jumped out at Marshall head coach Doc Holliday, who spoke about the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. Marshall hosts Appalachian State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be televised by CBS.
“Anytime you rush for over 300 yards, that’s a heck of a day,” Holliday said. “That starts up front and then, when you have excellent backs that you can hand that ball to, it creates a problem for us. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
Marshall did a very good job against the run in its Sept. 5 opener against Eastern Kentucky, limiting the Colonels to just 19 rushing yards in the first half and 86 for the game. However, that was much more straight-ahead rushing by the Colonels, which is different from what the Thundering Herd will see out of Appalachian State Saturday.
One thing that jumped out in Appalachian State’s win over Charlotte was the ability for the offensive linemen to get push and also get down the line laterally to sustain blocks, which helped tremendously in stretch plays.
“They do a great job with the outside stretch play and they are so well-coached,” Holliday said of the Mountaineers. “They do a great job of cutting off the backside of that, and those backs do a great job of stretching it and finding that crease and getting north-south.”
For Marshall to combat that rushing prowess, the secondary will have to get heavily involved in run support against those stretch plays.
“We are just trying to be involved throughout, [defending] the ... run game, pass game — just doing whatever we can to help the team,” Marshall cornerback Steven Gilmore said.
The combination of scheme and execution led to many big gains for the Mountaineers’ rushing attack, which spreads carries evenly among three backs to ensure freshness down the stretch. In the fourth quarter, Appalachian State wore down Charlotte, rushing 17 times for 119 yards while getting six first downs on the ground and outscoring the 49ers 14-0 to secure the win.
Marcus Williams finished as Appalachian State’s leading rusher with 117 yards on 14 carries while Camerun Peoples added 102 yards on 13 carries. Both scored touchdowns. Daetrich Harrington finished with 60 yards on the ground on 15 carries and had two scores, including both fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The one constant in the backfield for Appalachian State was patience by the backs to allow plays to develop behind its veteran offensive line. Anytime Charlotte’s defense got too aggressive and over-pursued to the football, it cost the 49ers.
For Marshall, defensive angles and discipline are going to be key this week as the Herd looks to slow that attack.
“For us, we’ve just got to be disciplined on the defensive side,” Marshall linebacker Abraham Beauplan said. “The coaches are going to make sure of that. We’ve got a great coaching staff and they’re going to call the plays for us to be in position to make plays. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
While Appalachian State features the Sun Belt Preseason Conference Player of the Year in quarterback Zac Thomas, it is that rushing attack being able to balance Thomas that makes the Mountaineers’ offense — directed by former Marshall quarterback and assistant coach Tony Petersen — so difficult to defend.
Holliday wasted no time saying that defending the run was imperative for the Herd to be in position to knock off the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers on Saturday.
“At the end of the day, you have to be able to stop the run at some point or you have no chance of winning,” Holliday said.