HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Sometimes looks can be deceiving, but for those who watched Marshall Saturday night, they know they saw something different than what they witnessed in 2016.
A quick glance at the final box score from Marshall’s 31-26 season opening win over Miami does not tell the full story of Saturday’s first step toward putting a disastrous 2016 season in the rearview mirror.
The Redhawks outgained Marshall with 429 yards of total offense to the Herd’s 267 but Miami ran 31 more offensive plays than Marshall, which tends to happen when you run two kickoffs back for touchdowns and return an interception back for another score.
Even though the stats favor Miami, Marshall’s defense played well, despite being on the field most of the night. The Herd’s defense, which demonstrated speed and athleticism that appeared to be lacking throughout the 2016 campaign, limited the Redhawks’ opportunities and stalled Miami drives in crucial situations. Afterwards, Herd defenders were quick to praise the offseason effort, which coach Doc Holliday has called one of the toughest offseasons during his coaching career.
“All offseason the coaches put the work in for us so we could come out here and play like this,” credited defensive end Marquis Couch.
Couch finished with six tackles and a sack in his first start for the Herd.
“We’ve been working hard all summer, the practices have been long and it was just nice to get out there and hit somebody else,” grinned linebacker Chase Hancock, who finished with 10 tackles and a sack.
Marshall’s defense bent but didn’t break on Miami’s two longest drives of the game. Miami was forced to settle for a pair of field goals on drives of 15 plays and 13 plays. Those stops combined with Chris Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown proved to be the difference in the game.
“This year, we’re a young defense but there’s a lot of speed, athleticism and competitiveness on this defense,” insisted defensive back Chris Jackson.
That all showed Saturday night against the Redhawks and Marshall will need even more of it this week on the road at N.C. State.
Don’t overreact after just one game. It’s not time to anoint the 2017 Thundering Herd as the next great team in Herd football history. There’s plenty of room to improve, especially on the offensive side of the football.
However, if the Herd avoids a pair of turnovers in the first half, and Chase Litton completes a handful of passes to open receivers, the game may have turned into an old fashioned blowout.
After one game, Marshall has passed the initial “eye test” and given Herd fans reason to believe 2017 can be a much better experience than 2016.