HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— Marshall’s offense has been able to do what it has wanted, when it has wanted through the first two games of the season. The Herd has outscored the opposition 107-14 in two games and is gaining three yards more per play than the defense is allowing. Marshall is still putting up points but doing it with a more balanced attack in 2013.
Of the 1,100 yards of total offense through the first two games, Marshal has thrown for 572 yards and rushed for 528. It’s nearly a 50/50 split.
“We’ve been able to do some things to control the ball and been allowed to do that because of the way our defense has played. Hopefully we do a good job of controlling the ball and the defense plays as well as it has played,” says offensive coordinator Bill Legg.
The Herd’s running game has been full steam ahead and the offense has something to prove against the Bobcats. Marshall gained just 59 yards on 22 carries against Ohio last season. Center Chris Jasperse says there’s no secret formula to The Herd’s success on the ground so far.
“We’ve just been getting hats on hats and trying to execute our blocks. The backs have been making plays and the wideouts making blocks on the perimeter has been huge for us,” says Jasperse. “We take a lot of pride in that now.”
The balanced attack has led to blowouts in the first two games and has given opposing defenses fits trying to figure out if they should drop back into coverage to defense the potent passing game or bring up run support to the line of scrimmage.
“When you know you can run the ball and pass the ball at the same time it helps a lot because you know you can go out there and be balanced,” insists receiver Tommy Shuler.
Steward Butler has recorded back-to-back 100 yard rushing performances and this week Marshall will be even deeper in the backfield. In addition to Butler and Essray Taliaferro, The Herd gets Kevin Grooms back in the backfield after sitting out most of the first two games of the season.
The Herd is not only rotating guys in the backfield, it is also rolling in players among the offensive line, keeping fresh legs all around for an offense that can easily run 90 or more plays in a game.
“Coach Miribal wants to keep the yards fresh so he rotates them every series. So we get a lot of young guys in there so if someone goes down we don’t miss a beat,” says Jasperse.
The line will battle against a Bobcat defense that had its struggles against 9th ranked Louisville. Cardinals’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater carved up the Bobcat defense for 355 yards and five touchdowns in the season opener. Bobcat Head Coach Frank Solich was eager to back on the field last week against North Texas to get that bitter taste out of their mouths.
“Obviously the first week was really disappointing for everybody,” says Solich. “I had a good feeling going into the game about how they’d play and how they’d execute.”
Defensively there are no secrets about what Ohio is going to try to accomplish. The Bobcats will show both three and four-down fronts but offensive coordinator Bill Legg says its Ohio’s toughness that makes the defense what it is.
“They pride themselves in being a physical football team. They pride themselves on swarming to the football. They pride themselves in being sound fundamentally and executing their plan and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of every play they call. They are extremely well coached and that shows up,” points out Legg.
The Bobcats lost five starters from last year’s team but Legg compares the new starters to clones. Ohio is able to plug new guys into those positions and get the same results.
Along the defensive front, Kendrick Smith can cause headaches for quarterbacks. Smith is a former walk-on at LSU and played in 12 games last season. On the opposite side redshirt-Freshman Kurk Laseak bookends the defensive line. Antwan Crutcher posted a career high 40 tackles last season at nose guard and Brandon Purdum mans the other tackle spot.
Will linebacker Javon Johnson is the reigning MAC East Defensive player of the week. Johnson had a pair of solo tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception return for a touchdown against North Texas.
In the secondary, cornerback Travis Carrie is in his sixth year at Ohio and safety Xavier Hughes has interceptions in each of the first two games of the season.
“They’re going to bring an extra guy and play man free. They’re going to line up in cover four. Sometimes they’re going to press the corners and sometimes they’re going to press and play man. They do what they do and do it extremely well,” says Legg.
Can Ohio stop has become a balanced Marshall offensive attack? No one has done that yet.