Sep 8, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There was a critically acclaimed film in limited release showing on Sunday at Marshall’s Shewey Building football offices.
No one had to pay to see “A Butler.”
Really, no one had to watch the tape of the Thundering Herd’s 55-0 Saturday night rout of Gardner-Webb to know running back Steward Butler had one of his best days in his 14 games in a Herd uniform.
Seeing it live at Edwards Stadium was telling enough.
The redshirt sophomore led the MU offense with 151 rushing yards on only nine carries, with three touchdowns – matching his 2012 total – but four shy of one of his stellar performances back at Lakeland (Fla.) High.
His 55- and 46-yard runs against the FCS foe were the Herd’s longest rushes this season, the latter for a touchdown. He also opened the scoring with a 9-yarder and tacked on a 13-yard TD in the third quarter.
None of those TDs was the Butler play that Marshall coach Doc Holliday wanted to talk about first in his postgame session, however.
“We talked all week about starting fast and coming out and playing well early and I thought our kids did that,” Holliday said. “The (45-yard) kickoff return by Butler kind of set the tone for the game, and for the most part we played well.”
Butler also caught a Rakeem Cato pass for 18 yards, a week after he ran through Miami (Ohio) for 107 yards. His 151-yard rushing game was his third 100-yarder of his career, as the Herd—2-0 for the first time since it finished unbeaten in 1999 -- points toward Saturday night’s “Battle for the Bell” rivalry date at Ohio (1-1).
Butler has brought an added dimension to the Cato-driven Herd attack. The running back and Holliday agree that things are different, too.
“No. 1, he’s a good player,” Holliday said when asked about Butler’s improved numbers. “No. 2, he’s practiced extremely hard. He plays like that on Tuesday and Wednesday. We try to practice so hard on Tuesday and Wednesday so that when we get out there on Saturday, the games are easy.
“That’s our philosophy as far as practice goes. And Stew, for the last two weeks has practiced extremely well. He’s living right, making good decisions and it’s good to see him getting rewarded for that.
“Last year, we had freshmen (backs). This year, physically, he’s a lot stronger. If you look at him, last year he had little arms and little skinny legs and he’s filled out and he’s stronger, more physical, a better player because of what’s happened in weight room, too.”
The 5-foot-9 Butler has grown to 178 pounds, but his play this season has been about more than increased strength to go with dazzling speed and cutting ability.
“It’s a lot of focus,” Butler said. “I haven’t really been focusing (in the past). I go out and play a lot. I’m a goofy guy. I used to go out in practice and play a lot, but now that I see I can get a lot (from) practice, I go out and really work and stay away from all the goofiness and really focus on football. And my performance shows that.”
Asked about setting the tone with his opening kickoff return into Runnin’ Bulldog territory, Butler said, “Oh yeah. That let ‘em know right away we’re not out here to have fun with you, we’re out here to play ball.”
The Herd has 528 rushing yards in two runaways, the first time Marshall has scored 50 points in back-to-back games in the same season since it was in a final season as a Division I-AA program – in the NCAA first round (Delaware 59-14) and quarterfinals (Furman 54-0) in 1996.
“I’ve said from Day 1 we may not have the stats we had last year, but we have a better offense,” Holliday said. “We had a lot of stats last year, but right now we’re a more balanced offense and we’re a better offense than a year ago, because we can run the ball when we want to, and still have the ability to throw it extremely well.
“So, being a more balanced offense and being able to do both – we’re still going to take what the defense gives us; we did that at times (Saturday). We probably also forced some runs in there when we should have been throwing it, but we were pretty successful getting that done.
Butler said the running back competition among senior Essray Taliaferro and fellow sophomores Remi Watson and Kevin Grooms – he didn’t play against G-W as he continues to bounce back from an ankle injury – only makes thing better.
He also praised the Herd’s veteran offensive line and new running backs coach, former Georgia star Thomas Brown.
“He gets the toughness out of you,” Butler said of Brown. “He makes you play hard. Every snap you must play hard. I’ve never had a coach like him at that position. He really coaches it hard.
“Last year, when we used to come up during contact we used to be the nail, not the hammer. He took that out of us. So, when we see the contact, we accelerate now. He always tells us to accelerate on contact. I don’t slow down on contact.”
Not much has slowed Butler this season. On his 9-yard score, he burst past chasing defenders and dived to the corner of the end zone, later remarking: “I should win those runs to the pylon.”
On his 46-yarder, Butler got an open-field, downfield block from tackle Gage Niemeyer. Butler said he didn’t see his teammate’s assistance on the play.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “I’ll see it on the film.”
Gee, even the guy himself wanted to see that Butler film.
# # #
Butler wasn’t alone in playing the numbers game for the Herd offense in Saturday’s win.
Cato passed for 230 yards, moving the junior from Miami to 6,743 career yards and into sixth place on the Herd list. He passed Carl Fodor’s 6,655 yards (1982-85).
Cato also climbed on the MU career total offense list. With 236 yards in the game, he moved to 6,871 and fifth all-time. He passed Bernard Morris (6,705, 2004-07) and John Gregory (6,720, 1986-89). Cato needs 188 yards to pass Todd Donnan (7,057 from 1991-94) for No. 4.
Slot receiver Tommy Shuler – Cato’s high school and college teammate – also continued to climb on Marshall career charts.
Shuler had five catches for 85 yards. He reached the top 25 in receiving yards, at 1,412, passing Ray Crisp (1,364 from 1975-78) and James Williams (1,403 in 1998-99). Shuler is within 52 yards of No. 24 Tim Lewis (1,419, 1982-85), No. 23 Will Brown (1,444, 1990-93) and No. 22 Ricardo Clark (1,464, 1988-91).
The junior from Miami has 138 career catches – one behind Troy Brown for No. 15, four behind no. 14 LaVorn Colclough, five behind Denero Marriott (1999-2002) and nine behind tight end Sean Doctor (1987-88).