Sept. 28, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Marshall’s offense leads the nation in snaps, in passing yardage and in number of plays of 10 or more yards, with 88.
The man that gets the Herd going is only a sophomore … and I’m not talking about quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Before Cato can make his option, on-the-fly decisions on pass, hand it and run or keep it and run, he has to get the ball from center Chris Jasperse, who is an anchor on a much-improved MU offensive front.
Where Cato sartorially is known on the Marshall campus for his now-trimmed down beard, Jasperse has a very full – and somewhat unruly -- head of hair that, to date, hasn’t been follicle-challenged by wearing a helmet.
On Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Thundering Herd plays its fifth game in history against a Big Ten opponent – Purdue (2-1) – and if the Herd offense is on the field, it figures Jasperse will be there, too.
In a 2-2 Herd start, the redshirt sophomore lineman has been on the field for 362 of 371 plays. He played entire games against West Virginia (101 plays), Ohio (87) and Rice (93), and when it’s not gameday, he’s been walking around recently with a protective boot on his strained left foot.
“I’m OK,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”
Jasperse’s performance, however, is noteworthy. Consider it this way: Through four weeks of the 2012 season, he’s likely been on the field for more plays than anyone else in the nation.
“We had 101 snaps at West Virginia, and I played every one of them,” said Jasperse, a 6-foot-4, 283-pounder from Greensboro, N.C., who’s in his second season as a Herd starter. “Really, I never thought about how many.
“I never thought I’d ever play that many. It never would cross my mind how many snaps I played until they started counting it, oh, we had 60-some this game. After the West Virginia game, I go to (line coach Geep Wade), ‘How many times did I snap the ball; I’m tired.’
“It was 101, without penalties (105 overall). No wonder I’m tired.”
The Herd is averaging 92.8 plays per game. The average last season was 66 … and last Saturday, Jasperse went the distance – including six snaps in two overtimes – in the heat and humidity of Houston.
“It goes back to July and August,” Jasperse said. “It’s why we do what we do, why we run every day in July, so I’m able to play every play.
“We knew we were going to play faster this season. We go from 60-something plays last year to 90-something, so that’s 30 more plays a game. We’re playing faster than I thought we could, but the 30 more shows in our offense, with our yardage, our stats and success in what we’re doing. And it’s helping out big-time.”
He not only plays every play. Jasperse has started every game in his Herd career – the visit to Purdue will be his 18th career start. After redshirting in 2010, he played last season in a freshman-to-freshman combo, snapping to rookie Cato. Then, this past Jan. 25, Jasperse underwent lower back surgery, and he was a bit slowed during spring practice in April.
“I’ve been 100 percent since the first day of spring ball, but I took it slow at first,” said Jasperse, whose mobility – including bending over to snap a ball, for instance – was limited for six weeks after his surgery. “It was a microdisectomy. My one disc was sitting on my nerve, so they went in and trimmed that part off.”
The Boilermakers’ four-man defensive front averages 6-4, 296 pounds and MU Coach Doc Holliday said earlier this week that Purdue has “a couple of guys in their front four who are probably going to be first or second round draft picks (in the NFL) … Their front four could play for anyone.”
Jasperse knows the challenge at Purdue will be a big one for the Herd offensive front.
“(Kawann) Short, he’s a player,” Jasperse said of the 6-3, 315-pound senior tackle who already has two kick blocks this season and can dunk a basketball. They’re all big, fast, and they’re strong, and they get off the ball very well. We’re going to have to play tough.”
The comfort zone for Jasperse and Cato has been obvious through four games. The Herd offense went through some growing pains a year ago, but Jasperse had a bit of an advantage in that he was in the program for a redshirt year.
“Year 1, you’ve just got to get guys going, get them to understand the offense,” Jasperse said when asked about the change from 2011 to 2012. “Year 2, they just let us go out and play.
“You can’t just put it all on us the first year, definitely with a true freshman quarterback. He’s got so much to deal with, to worry about. You put it out slowly and then, boom, you get it all and you see what our offense is capable of doing now.
“I didn’t worry about it that much last year, because I had all of spring ball after my redshirt season, which was huge. That helped us out a lot, and we just keep going over and over stuff until we learned.”
Jasperse said the emergence of the Herd’s running game didn’t surprise anyone within the Herd camp, and that Holliday’s team is ready for a week-to-week metamorphosis.
“We just go fast and take what defense gives us,” the Herd center said. ‘If you want to stop the run, we’ll throw it. If you want to double receivers, we’ll run it. Sometimes we’ll pass 65 times, other times we’ll rush for 54. It just depends, what they give us, we go with it.”
And Jasperse has to snap before the Herd offense can crackle or pop.