Oct. 4, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – So, just how speedy is fast?
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said his team’s success offensively this season isn’t rooted in the run or the pass, but in the tempo. The Thundering Herd leads major college football with 462 offensive plays.
“We’re going faster than I think any of us thought we could, or we would,” Marshall senior receiver Aaron Dobson said.
So, how fast has the Herd (2-3, 1-0) played? You don’t have to do the math. I did.
In about as accurate as you can get without sitting with a stopwatch on tape or a DVD of five games, the Herd is snapping the ball every 17.875 seconds.
In reality, it’s a tick or two faster than that, because I used time of possession as a base. And time of possession includes a running game clock when teams are getting on and off the field before punts and field goals, and when play is slowed somewhat as the chains are moved on a first down.
Marshall has had the ball for 143 minutes even in five games. The 462 plays used for total offense measurement do not include punts (18) or field goal tries (six), although the Herd’s overall possession time does include those kicks. That’s why the play pace is honestly faster than 17.875 seconds.
Then, six plays need to be subtracted to get as accurate as possible, because that’s what the Herd ran in two overtimes in a win at Rice – and those are added into offensive plays, with no time of possession increase.
While Holliday and Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg wanted to push tempo, they had to have the offense in someone’s hands who could do that. Teammates say quarterback Rakeem Cato, groomed for the part by his hard work and QB coach Tony Petersen, has made the clock-running work.
“He’s matured so much,” Herd tight end Gator Hoskins
said of Cato. “He understands defenses now, a year ago he didn’t recognize some things. It’s his leadership; he’s become so much better in a lot of ways.”
Graduate student-offensive guard John Bruhin said the Herd “all thought Cato was capable, and now it’s little nuances here and there he’s picked up, and we’ve really got the ball rolling.
“One of those (nuances) is playing fast, having that one year of experience under his belt and coming out this year, managing the game more. That’s helped him and us out a lot, made us a totally different offense.”
Tulsa (4-1, 2-0), which visits Edwards Stadium for a Saturday 3:30 p.m. kickoff – and Marshall’s 111th Homecoming – ranks in a tie for fifth nationally in plays with 415. The Golden Hurricane, using the aforementioned computations, is averaging a play every 19.1 seconds.
“We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said of the Herd at his Tuesday press conference. “I’m sure it’s arguably one of the best offenses in the country, certainly statistically in our league … a very impressive offense.
“They’re much improved from a year ago. They’ve changed their personality with the way they go all uptempo. They’re averaging 92 snaps a game, which is really phenomenal … a 70-percent completion rate. They’re very well-coached.”
Dobson said another factor in the Herd’s ability to run more plays is having Legg upstairs in the coaches’ booth calling plays, rather than on the sideline, where he spent games last year also as the offensive line coach.
“Up there, he can see everything,” the Herd senior wideout said. “You can make calls quicker. On the field, it’s impossible to see things that well. Up there, you see what the safeties are doing, see what the whole defense is doing and there’s a better chance he’ll get us into the right call.”
Dobson said the Herd offensive goal for 2012 was to get 80 plays per game. Last season, when Cato was a true freshman and the Herd’s play-calling was simplified and the pace needed to be slower, the average was 65.6 plays per game.
“He’s really stepped up as a leader,” Herd left tackle Jordan Jeffries said. “He’s always been a vocal guy, but he’s leading with his play now. He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s collected on the field.
“He hasn’t been rattled at all, in any way. When he gets rushed, gets hit now and then, it doesn’t really rattle him and that shows he’s matured a lot as a player.”
There’s another way to view the Herd’s offensive hustle, too. With 92.4 plays this season after 65.6 per game a year ago (and only 63.8 in Holliday’s first Marshall season, 2010), the Herd is getting 25 more snaps per game.
That’s almost a half of plays – two quarters-worth – of what Marshall’s attack was managing in Holliday’s first two seasons.
“We’ve had way more snaps than we had the last three years I’ve been here, at least 20-25 more,” Dobson said. “Tempo is much, much better, and that puts pressure on the defense. The way we’re also spreading the ball around, they can’t concentrate on one particular player.
“The coaches always tell us that as soon as we get tackled, give the ball to the ref, and get back and get lined up, ready to go. We signal in plays faster than before. I don’t even have to look at sidelines to get the play. I can line back up and Cato tells me what to do, just by hand signals.”
# # #
It hasn’t been brought up, so I’ll do it:
Marshall owns the longest current Conference USA football home winning streak, at seven games (over seven different teams). The Herd lost Holliday’s home debut to UCF in October 2010, but has won every league home date since then.
In Holliday’s first two seasons on the Herd sideline, his teams shared the best home record for C-USA games with the Golden Hurricane and SMU, at 7-1. While the Homecoming game is Marshall’s 2012 C-USA opener at “The Joan,” Tulsa won its league home opener over Tulane back on Sept. 8.
“No. 1, our kids love to play at home, love to walk into that stadium, the atmosphere we do have every time we do come in there,” Holliday said. “Our kids have played well at home it’s nice not to be on the road. We’ve had two tough roads trips (Rice, Purdue) … to get back home is huge, and the other thing is, it’s a conference game.
“Our goals are out there as far as our conference is concerned, and it’s our next conference game, and it’s important we play well.”
Holliday’s three MU teams are 9-4 in Huntington, the losses no embarrassments -- to No. 23 West Virginia in overtime (2010) and No. 13 Virginia Tech (2011); to a UCF team that won the C-USA title, went 11-3 and finished No. 21 in the AP poll (2010); and this season to Mid-American Conference favorite and BCS busting-hopeful Ohio (5-0).
In seven-plus Conference USA seasons, the only league foes the Herd hasn’t defeated are Tulsa and UCF. Marshall did defeat UCF in the schools’ first three meetings, which took place when they were both members of the MAC.