BOGACZYK: Herd Offense `Legging' It Out This Season
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 1, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Who needs Red Bull when you’ve got Devon Johnson to bull through opponents?
Marshall football has been getting a real rush from its offense.
The Herd attack got its big-time reputation on senior quarterback Rakeem Cato’s arm, but as Marshall (4-0, 0-0) heads to Old Dominion (3-2, 1-1) for the Herd’s Conference USA opener on Saturday, coordinator Bill Legg’s offense is throwing for only 25 more yards per game than it is getting on the ground.
Time and again, MU Coach Doc Holliday has lauded an offensive line that three years ago he regularly roasted verbally. The group, led by fifth-year senior Chris Jasperse at center, has paved the way for improved ground fortunes.
The move of erstwhile tight end Johnson to running back has paid great dividends, too. The 242-pound crasher already has three of the Herd’s six 100-yard rushing games. The six 100s are second only to ground-based Georgia Southern’s eight.
"We feel like every week, we need to run the ball, so that’s where our emphasis is going to be," Jasperse said of the Saturday noon visit to Foreman Field in Norfolk, Va. "This game, in that regard, is no different from the others.
"We need to run it, play-action passing, too, throw the ball down the field. That helps everything out, opens up the field, gets people out of the box. We just need to keep doing our job, everybody feeding off one another.
"We don’t have just one thing we have to go to, not like a couple of years ago where we had to throw it. We’re just taking what the defense gives us now."
The Herd’s 6.9 yards per carry average ranks sixth nationally, while Marshall’s 286.0 yards per game is No. 12 among 128 FBS teams. Those six 100-yard rushing games in four games – spread among running backs Johnson, Remi Watson, Stew Butler and even Cato – compared to 10 in last season’s 10-4 finish.
Marshall’s ground game already has 36 runs of 10 or more yards, too.
"We haven’t planned in any way, shape or form to work out like it has," Holliday said, "but it has because Bill Legg and that offensive staff and Cato and our guys are not trying to put square pegs into round holes."
Marshall’s major college record – in modern times -- for average rushing yards per game in a season came last season, at 205.9. The school record for total ground yards is 3,395 in 1996 – the final season of Division I-AA play – for an average of 226.3.
If the 2014 Herd is going to reach the school mark, it’s going to have to keep using its legs … and with even greater success. Coach Cam Henderson’s 1940 club – led by College Football of Famer Jackie Hunt – ran for 3,019 yards in an 8-2 finish (301.9 per game).
The C-USA record for season rushing average is 293.8, set back in 1998 by Army’s option attack.
Jasperse said the Herd offense has another plus this week with the return of lineman Sebastian Johansson, who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. In the left tackle’s absence, senior Trevor Mendelson and freshman AJ Addison have filled in so well that Jasperse said Johansson also is likely to see time at left guard, too – a situation that will bring more athleticism to the Herd front five.
"Absolutely not," Jasperse answered when asked if he’s been surprised in any fashion by the Herd offense. "It’s something we worked on this spring with everybody, living up to our standards, which are high … receivers living up, running backs living up, quarterbacks, offensive line, living up.
"We knew that if everybody came together and did what we knew they could do, we had a chance to be great. That’s what we really focused on in the spring and in fall camp, and we’ve come out the first four games of the season and we know what we can do now. And we just have to keep doing it every day."
With ODU ranking 93rd nationally in rushing defense, the Herd sees a chance to keep its feet on the ground as it opens the league season.
"There is an urgency now, absolutely," said Jasperse, who is one of the four Herd captains for the game at ODU. "Non-conference is over and we did what we needed to do in that aspect. But now it’s conference and that’s where all the marbles are, and ultimately that’s what we want to do, is win a Conference USA championship and go on from there. It starts now, and we’ve got to treat this like Week 1, and we’re 0-0.
"We don’t look ahead, and I don’t think that’s hard for us at all now, because that’s what the coaches have always taught and always driven into our heads. It’s managing one game at a time.
"We’re not worried about anybody right now except Old Dominion. We can’t afford to look ahead. We can’t accomplish our goals later down the line if we don’t take care of this one first."