Sep 1, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It was first-and-10 near midfield, about three minutes into the second quarter of the football season opener at Edwards Stadium. Marshall running back Kevin Grooms broke loose for a 39-yard run.
That was 28 more yards than the not-yet-Thundering Herd had managed in total offense in the opening quarter Saturday night, and it was trailing visiting Miami of Ohio, 7-0. Three Essray Taliaferro carries later, the hosts had tied the score.
It’s that play – the longest rush of the game – that most Herd fans would figure got Marshall’s hurryin’ attack off the ground.
The guy calling the plays thought differently. The play that MU offensive coordinator Bill Legg figured provided the spark came two plays before Grooms’ 39-yarder.
“It was early in our fourth series, start of the second quarter,” Legg said after the Herd eventually rolled to a 52-14 rout of the steamrolled former Mid-American Conference rival. “We popped a good little run, and then we were able to get into a rhythm.
“It wasn’t a huge run, maybe 7, 8 yards, something like that, on a first down. And from there I thought we were able to get into a tempo and go with it.”
The play Legg thought gave the Herd attack its legs was Grooms’ 9-yard run on first-and-10 from the Herd 37. The sophomore back went for another first down on the next play with 5 yards, then took Marshall to the Miami 10 with the 39-yarder.
Yes, Marshall was off and running – more so than most games a year ago, when quarterback Rakeem Cato led major college football in passing yards and completions per game. Against the RedHawks, the Herd had four players run for 50 or more yards, including the QB.
“Everyone knows I’m not a running quarterback,” the Herd junior said, “but I just felt the pressure and tucked it and ran what my keys told me and was able to pick up a few yards here and there to keep the drives moving. When I’m running the ball, it just adds another dimension to this offense.”
As for being his usual self, Cato threw for a career high-matching five touchdowns, connecting with nine receivers on the night, including two scoring passes to tight end/h-back Gator Hoskins.
“I think he had a good understanding of what he had to do,” Herd Coach Doc Holliday said of Cato’s 59 yards on nine carries, and his escapability. “He knew what he needed to get to get the first down.
“He’s a lot more physical. He’s faster than he was the last couple years. He has a great understanding of when he needs to get down and made great decisions as far as those goes today.”
Marshall’s 304 ground yards were its most in a home game since getting 374 in a 2003 victory over Akron. The Herd’s 57 ground attempts were a high since getting 63 in a 1994 NCAA Division I-AA first-round playoff win over Middle Tennessee.
Steward Butler (107 yards) and Taliaferro (89) led the Herd on the ground, while Grooms – who missed a lot of August camp due to injury – reached 51 yards.
Holliday said there’s more where their production came from on opening night.
“Steward Butler and Essray Taliaferro are excellent backs,” Holliday said. “Kevin Grooms is not ready yet. He’s done a tremendous job with treatments. He’s about another week away. When he got caught from behind on that one (39-yarder), I knew he wasn’t ready.
“He should be good to go next week (against 1-0 Gardner-Webb). We’re going to play all those guys. They’re all talented guys who need to play.”
Back to that first quarter … 11 yards, no first downs, no points and only 5:02 possession time.
“We were too aggressive, way too aggressive,” Legg said after what eventually became a 591-yard night on 94 snaps. “We were just out of sync, too wound up, trying to kill people instead of just blocking ‘em, running, throwing, catching.
“It can happen sometimes in first games, but then we settled down, got in a rhythm, and once we settled down and got in that rhythm, we had some success. And the defense obviously did a phenomenal job showing up early in the game because we weren’t much help in the first quarter.
“But we stayed the course, hung together and we made corrections we needed to make and got it going – and fortunately, it kept going. So, we were able to come out with a victory, and at the end of that day, that’s what it’s all about.”
It was a different Marshall offense than a year ago, too. The Herd’s run-pass ratio was 61-39. The tempo wasn’t quite as hurry-up as a year ago, but MU still ran 94 plays because the defense was helping significantly more by getting the three-and-outs it didn’t in 2012.
It was the 12th time in Marshall history that the Herd has taken 94 or more snaps. Half of those dozen have come in the last 13 games – last season and this opener. There also were 91-play games against Purdue and UCF and a 90-play date at Tulsa last season, when the Herd led FBS in offensive plays per game (90.6).
This looked different, however. Of the first 28 Marshall snaps, 21 were rushes.
“That was what (Miami was) giving us,” Legg said. “We had even numbers. When we had five blockers, they had five defenders. When we had six blockers, they had six (defenders). It was what they were giving, so it was what we tried to do.
“We were getting a feel for how they were going to defend us, formation-by-formation. You look at last year, and they played a lot of different stuff, but they had a theme to every game, and we were trying to think of what that theme was.
“Early in the game we were mixing the formations up, trying to get a sense of what that theme was going to be against us. That may have had some impact (on the lack of first-quarter productivity) as well.
“But like I said, we popped that run early in the fourth series, and it got that engine running and we were able to keep it running. So, from that perspective, everything was good.”