BOGACZYK: Litton Aging on the Calendar and Behind Center
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 5, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Chase Litton gets his fourth straight start for Marshall in Friday night’s Conference USA game against visiting Southern Miss, he will be a more mature quarterback than he was the last time out.
See, Litton was a just teenager when he went 21-for-35 for 212 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 27-7 Edwards Stadium victory over Old Dominion.
Litton’s 20th birthday is today. And you talk about the needed synergy between a quarterback and center? It also was Herd junior center Michael Selby’s birthday Monday – his 21st.
What are the chances of that kind of snap?
“It was just meant to be,” a grinning Litton said Monday. “Great. I’ll take it.”
With the short week to prepare for “Friday Night Lights,” don’t expect Litton, Selby and backup tight end Kaleb Harris – the Ohioan also turned 20 Monday – to have much time to celebrate with the Herd (4-1, 1-0). After all, Southern Miss (3-2, 1-0) appears headed back to more than respectability, rekindling the promise of a program that has won more C-USA football titles (five) than any school.
What’s most important to Litton and for him – as one of nine true freshman quarterback starters in the FBS – is that every time out he takes a small step or two forward. Against the Golden Eagles, he said he needs one of those Neil Armstrong-on-the-moon giant leaps for the Herd.
“It’s confidence-building every game,” Litton said. “There were some plays last game that I really missed that I was really mad at myself about, and we can’t have that against Southern Miss. We know we’re going to have to score some points, and we can’t skip a beat.
“But my confidence is getting a lot higher. I’m getting more comfortable with the team, and with the receivers. This week is really big for us. We’ve got to prepare, be very confident and more consistent this time out than we have been.”
Against the Monarchs, Litton used his head and feet to break contain several times. He didn’t force things through the air, and the Tampa resident found outside receivers Deon-Tay McManus and Davonte Allen more readily than he did a week earlier in a double-overtime triumph at Kent State.
“We saw (ODU) liked to play a lot of zone and they liked to pack the box a lot -- put seven in there – and when a team does that I need to help our outside receivers make plays, and that’s exactly what they did.” Litton said. “I was pretty upset about the two I missed, one to Deon-Tay on the drag route and Davonte on the comeback route.
“But coming into Southern Miss, this is a big-time week for us. We can’t be off. I can’t miss those throws. We can’t have missed assignments; we can’t have missed blocks. We can’t have drops, because we know this has to be a big week for us.”
Herd Coach Doc Holliday likes what he has seen so far from Litton.
“I think every time (out), you see him grow,” Holliday said at his Monday press session. “In those (rainy) conditions out there (against ODU) I thought that he had zero turnovers, which is important. You saw things break down a couple times and he found ways to keep his eyes down field and make plays.
“You just continue to watch him grow and he has to continue to do that. He has to keep getting better every week and we have to keep getting better offensively every week as we do in all the other phases; on special teams, on defense, and we have to work hard to get better. This week will be no different.”
In his time behind Selby, Litton also has coped with a makeshift right side of the offensive front. All-conference right tackle Clint Van Horn missed Litton’s first two starts, then returned for ODU, but was reinjured late in the first half and didn’t return.
There also has been a revolving door at right guard. Three players have played at both right guard and right tackle in Litton’s three starts. How does a rookie QB cope with that? He leaves it in good hands, he said.
“I just trust Coach (Alex) Mirabal,” Litton said of Marshall’s third-year line coach. “I know he’s one of the best coaches on our staff, especially from an offensive standpoint. He really puts his offensive line in a situation to succeed and Coach (Bill) Legg (offensive coordinator) calls plays knowing that our right side is down right now.
“We work with the guys who come in and step up. With Van Horn, it’s tough to skip a beat, because we know with him it’s night-and-day, but when the guys come in and step up, that’s what we need.
“I really don’t think about it. I can’t think about it. I’ve just got to go with what I’d do normally with a Van Horn or without a Van Horn.”
Litton is 59-for-102 for 633 yards in his three outings, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. And he’ll have the most formidable counterpart he’s dueled since he replaced injured Michael Birdsong in Southern Miss junior Nick Mullens, a third-year starter with good numbers who has endured the growing pains on two USM teams that went 4-20.
It is the other side of the ball for the Golden Eagles that concerns Litton, particularly the fact that the USM defense leads C-USA with 13 sacks. Litton has been sacked eight times in three games.
“It’s their athletic ability,” the Herd quarterback replied when asked about what jumped out at him off the video of the Southern Miss defense. “They’re in the backfield. They’re swarming around the ball. Their safeties come all the way down the box and make plays in the backfield.
“That’s just them; they’re athletes, and they play hard. They really get after it, so we know that we’ve got to take care of the football, play smart, make our assignments.”
For Litton in the shotgun behind Selby, it isn’t so much about being a year older this week. It’s about being a week older in his game-to-game progression. Where is his concentration on the next step?
“It’s consistency,” he said. “Consistency is the main thing for me. I’m improving and learning. I’ve just got to be prepared. I’ve got to be consistent, whether it’s hitting 5-yard throws or 50-yard throws.”
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: The C-USA series between Marshall and Southern Miss – tied 5-5 – is the longest continuous current series for Marshall, and with the Golden Eagles now moved to C-USA’s West Division, there’s no assurance it will be played annually … Herd senior punter Tyler Williams leads the nation in kicks inside the 20, with 18, three more than Will Monday of Duke and Wake Forest’s Alexander Kinal. Williams’ 37 punts rank third nationally. He booted only 42 times in 14 games in 2014 … Marshall’s 17-2 record in the College Football Playoff years (2014 and ’15) ranks first among Group of Five teams, just in front of Boise State’s 16-3. Memphis is next at 15-3, followed by Georgia Southern and Toledo at 13-4 … Old Dominion averaged only 2.8 yards per pass attempt in Saturday’s loss, the lowest average by a Herd foe since UCF had 1.7 per attempt in a 30-14 road win here in November 2008 … With back-to-back 100-yard rushing games by sophomore Tony Pittman, the Herd has 13 of those 100-yard rushing performance in the last 13 games, and 29 in the last 33 games (dating to the start of the 2013 season) … Backup defensive end Ryan Bee’s 12 tackles in the win over ODU were the most by a Marshall defensive lineman since Albert McClellan – now with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens – had 15 at end for the Herd in a September 2009 win over Bowling Green. Bee played 43 snaps against the Monarchs. Since the Herd returned to major college football in 1997, only five D-linemen have had more hits in a game than Bee (Dewayne Lewis and McClellan 15; and Geradie Mercer, Ricky Hall and Jamus Martin, 13 each) … “I thought Ryan Bee was going to be a good player, but I didn’t think he’d quite be where he is as he is right now,” Holliday said. “He’s taken off and he’s played extremely well.”