Sept. 18, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When it came time for the Herd to mount a last-ditch comeback against Ohio Saturday, lineman John Bruhin answered the call.
The Marshall veteran offensive guard, who is battling an upper-body injury, didn’t start in last Saturday’s loss to unbeaten Ohio, but he did finish.
When the Thundering Herd needed its sixth-year right guard when trying to win the game down the stretch, the 6-foot-5, 312-pound Bruhin was in there to protect record-setting quarterback Rakeem Cato.
So, when Marshall goes to Rice (1-2) for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Conference USA opener for both teams, Bruhin hopes to be back in the starting lineup.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” said Bruhin of Saturday’s game. “I wanted to, and coach put me in in the fourth quarter for the last 2-3 series.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever done that,” he said.
With starting right tackle Garrett Scott still out from a bad ankle sprain suffered in the loss at West Virginia, Marshall had juniors Alex Schooler (guard) and Gage Niemeyer (tackle) on the right side against the Bobcats.
So, after a preseason camp in which Coach Doc Holliday spoke time and again about the offensive line depth, here was the Herd playing 87 snaps against Ohio with Bruhin as the only relief man.
Marshall’s 282 offensive plays through three games lead all FBS teams, two more than Coach Rich Rodriguez’s new push-it attack at Arizona.
“I was really glad to be in there,” Bruhin said. “After halftime, I thought they were probably going to rest me until next week. Then we came out and the third quarter went by and it was getting down to the wire.
“I was the only other offensive lineman that went in, other than the starters, so they had a lot of snaps. I was feeling for those guys.”
Schooler said Monday that he had never played as much in a game as he had Saturday, and he was starting to cramp later in the game, so Bruhin’s appearance was timely for more reasons than getting a veteran starter onto the field.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Schooler said after his second start – he was at left guard in place of dinged Josh Lovell in a win over Western Carolina. “I was just trying to go in there and do my job, live up to what John’s done. He knows it all.”
Like Bruhin, a Scott return would give the Herd its “deep depth” up front for the visit to Texas, where Marshall hasn’t won in eight tries (seven C-USA games and the 2004 Fort Worth Bowl).
Holliday indicated after Saturday’s loss that Marshall’s running game, limited greatly against the Bobcats, really missed Bruhin (experience) and Scott (athleticism). They would be a welcome sight against the Owls, who in allowing 290.3 ground yards per game rank better than only Eastern Michigan in rush defense among 124 FBS teams.
“We definitely just have to clean a lot of stuff up, got get everybody on the same page,” Bruhin said of the Herd rushing attack. “Backs hitting the right holes, offensive linemen making the holes…we’ve got to clean stuff up, come out and focus more on it.
“You know, we’re throwing the ball so many times, but we’ve got to get better at the run game, and that’s one way … The blocking scheme is not really different (from last season), but a lot of the time now they have the option of either to hand it off or throw it now, so it’s really up to what they’re seeing, what (the opponent) is giving us as to whether we’re going to run it or not.
“But we also have some plays that are called that are strictly runs, so we definitely have to step up on those plays and get more yardage.”
Schooler knows something about Bruhin’s experiences. The redshirt junior from Wichita, Kan., has battled injuries through his Herd years, too, undergoing shoulder surgery during his redshirt freshman season (2010), then having back surgery – sound familiar? – last January.
However, Holliday and offensive line coach Geep Wade said more than once during August that Schooler was having a very good camp, “maybe one of the best out here,” the Herd head coach said one day last month.
That’s why he’s the “swing” guard, or “third starter” as Wade likes to say about Schooler and Niemeyer, the junior college transfer who has gotten two straight starts with Scott sidelined.
“A lot of it was just me finally being healthy,” the 6-6, 303-pound Schooler said of his eye-opening preseason. “I felt like I was finally healthy, after going through a couple of injuries and surgery, I finally had my strength back.
“Our strength staff is amazing. That’s helped a lot. I had back surgery on a disc, nothing too major, in January. I feel like getting my strength back is a big deal for me.”
Bruhin said part of the reason he sat out against the Bobcats to get him healthy was an emphasis on pointing toward C-USA play.
“Coming into the Ohio game, we kind of knew we were going to be a couple of men short, just because of the injuries,” he said. “But going into conference play, they wanted everybody to be 100 percent, so I think that’s a lot of reasoning, too, behind it.
“A bunch of us are going to be back, so hopefully it will turn out great.”
Marshall’s nation-leading passing offense has thrown 167 passes with only four sacks, and Bruhin and Schooler agreed the pass protection only could use what the latter called “maybe a tweak here and there on technique, maybe fixing a little protection glitch here or there.”
Bruin knows that with the Herd’s plethora of running backs – chronicled throughout the preseason – the other piece of the offense has to find its legs, too.
“I think the pass protection we’ve had this year has helped us out a lot,” Bruhin said. “We’ve got a lot of room to improve in the running game, though, and I’m eager to get back in there to help rectify that.”