HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— When the smoke settled from the 54-51 shootout between Rice and Marshall last season it wasn’t surprising that The Herd put 51 points on the scoreboard or that Marshall was involved an overtime thriller. You might think it was a day that saw Rakeem Cato throw for 450 yards and five touchdowns but Cato only tallied 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Most of The Herd’s 590 yards of offense came on the ground. Marshall rushed for 334 yards led by Steward Butler’s 166 yard performance. It was the first time the offense, which had relied on the passing game all season, showed signs it could be a dominant force on the ground.
“That’s where our success started and we just had to build off of that and that success has carried into this season,” said Center Chris Jasperse.
That momentum carried in to the 2013 season along with an improved front five and new offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. The group that had caught so much flack a year ago has now earned the nickname “Iron Five” and is a strength of the team.
“There’s no doubt that we are so much better than we were a year ago,” said Coach Doc Holliday. “Of course offensive line coach Alex Mirabal and the kids deserve a lot of credit.”
The improvement running attack is the most obvious illustration of the progress the offensive line has made since last season. Last week against East Carolina, Essray Taliaferro became the first Marshall running back to gain 1,000 yards since Darius Marshall in 2005.
“We run the ball because we can,” said Jasperse. “We can’t let them dictate what we do.”
The success of the running game has also helped the passing game progress as well. Now that defenses must respect the run, the play action pass has become a major weapon in the offense’s arsenal.
Last week, Rakeem Cato used a little play-fake to freeze the linebackers down near the goal line and that allowed tight end Gator Hosksins to come wide open for an easy touchdown.
“This past two weeks the play action has been unbelievable. It’s just a tribute to our running game and the progress we’ve made there,” insisted Jasperse.
“Clint Van Horn has made improvements, Chris Jasperse is playing well, Sebastian Johansson (Swede) this time last year we didn’t think he could play, Garrett Scott is playing well and Alex Schooler is another guy that is playing really well. We have to give those five guys credit.”
Now, Marshall’s offense is balanced and more unpredictable than a year ago and that all goes back to the improvement along offensive line.
“We’re a much better offense than we were a year ago because we’ve been more balanced and been able to run the ball as much as we throw it,” said Holliday. “Hopefully we can get that done again on Saturday because whenever we’ve been able to run the football, there’s no doubt that we are a better football team overall.”
That success goes back to last year in Houston when Marshall first showed it could have a balanced offense, and still scored 51 points.