MCGILL: @HerdFB Ground Game Has Potential|
Sept. 28, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The first three games of Marshall’s football season provided a lengthy list of accomplishments from which optimism springs.
The first, of course, is the Thundering Herd is 2-1 as it enters its final non-conference game of the season this Saturday at the University of Cincinnati (2-2, 0-1). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be shown on ESPN3.
The special teams unit has produced two Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week award winners: Keion Davis, for his two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Miami; and Kaare Vedvik, the Herd’s do-everything punter/kicker/kickoff specialist. Junior receiver Tyre Brady is among the national leaders in receiving, and his record-breaking 248-yard performance at North Carolina State also garnered him a Player of the Week award and etched his name in Marshall’s record books. Junior quarterback Chase Litton has a 350-yard game to his credit, a feat so rare against the Wolfpack that the only other quarterback who have accomplished the feat in the past five seasons are Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston – all now NFL starting QBs.
The MU defense cannot be overlooked, either, as it ranks in the top 10 nationally in sacks per game and has a shutout to its credit despite starting only ONE senior.
If there is a place to pick nits, the Herd running game is the starting point.
“We have to become more consistent running the football,” said Doc Holliday, Marshall’s eighth-year head coach. “You can’t become one-dimensional.”
Marshall’s ground game sputtered through the season’s first 11 quarters – 69 carries for 199 yards, an average of 2.88 yards per rush. Then, freshman running back Tyler King made his collegiate debut and helped the Herd rush for 119 yards (King had 100 of them) in the fourth quarter of a 21-0 win against Kent State. Litton had the season’s first rushing TD, and King added a second to seal the game.
“We have to take what the defense gives us,” Holliday said. “I thought that fourth quarter against Kent State, our guys did a nice job blocking and Tyler King came in and gave us a spark. We saw what we had in preseason; we saw the way he worked all winter long. I didn’t surprise me when he got out there and did what he did.”
So, there are reasons for optimism for the rushing attack, which averaged 8.5 yards per carry in the fourth quarter against Kent State.
Overall, Marshall’s average yards per carry has increased in all three games this season: 2.36 to 4.04 to 4.79.
“We’re focused on getting better and better each week,” said Levi Brown, a sophomore center and Marshall’s offensive captain for this week’s game. “If that happens, by the end of the year we’ll be a well-oiled machine.”
Brown is encouraged because of the fourth quarter breakout against the Golden Flashes. The idea that the run game's success might have been a product of the opposition wearing down in the final period is not discouraging, he said.
“The fourth quarter is when you want to go out and get 100 yards,” Brown said. “It puts so much more confidence in you. It wasn’t garbage time. They still had their starters in. So for us to know that Tyler King can go in there and run for 100 yards in one quarter makes you feel better about what you did for four quarters.”
Brown, too, knows that the offensive line has featured a sophomore and three freshmen at times this season. The star in the backfield now, King, is also a collegiate rookie. The Herd’s ground game has a high ceiling, and it is only going to get better as King sees more game action.
“When he got in the game he got the job done,” Litton said of King. “He’s a thousand percent guy every single day. He’s a guy who wants to be good, wants to be successful.”
Marshall ranks No. 114 in rushing yardage, but that statistic is deceiving because of the Herd’s off week. MU is No. 94 in rushing yards per game – 3.83 – and that figure is nearly 1.5 yards higher than the season opener vs. Miami. The Herd’s average yards per attempt this season is 0.6 yards higher than last season.
Overall, Marshall is 26-2 in its last 28 games when rushing for 150 yards, as it did against Kent State.
“We know how important it is to keep this momentum going,” Brown said. “We have confidence right now.”