BOGACZYK: Herd Offense Progressing With New Personnel
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 14, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – You’ve probably heard about the Daytona 500. You probably know of the Talladega 500 … but this isn’t a story about NASCAR, although the Marshall starting quarterback’s first name is Chase.
The subject matter is the Marshall 500 – as in Herd football and total offense. It’s history, at least for now. Coach Doc Holliday’s team doesn’t pile up the yards as the 2012-14, Rakeem Cato-led offenses did.
Those three Herd teams played 40 games, went 28-12, and in 26 of those games registered more than 500 yards total offense. In those three seasons, Marshall joined Oregon and Baylor as the only teams to average 500 or more yards per game each year.
Still, the 2015 Herd is 5-1 as No. 110 (of 128) FBS teams in total offense (338.8 yards per game). The defense and special teams have been outstanding. The offense remains a work in progress, and Holliday and his team is OK with that.
“We’ve kind of found our identity now,” said junior center Michael Selby, who was the right guard starter of last season’s Conference USA champion team. “We’re not the same team we were last season. Last year, we led the country in like, 20-plus-yard plays, 30-plus-yard plays, so we’ve just got to go out there now and focus on going out and fightin’ and battling each play.
“At some point in the game, we know we have to make a play, and we’ve got to make those plays. And that’s OK. As long as we can continue to make those plays, we’ll be all right.
“After the first four or five games, you start figuring out who you are, and you really need to figure that out before it gets too late in the season or you’ll be in trouble. So, finding out who we were, making those plays when we need to make them – like (in a double-overtime win) at Kent State, and a couple big runs the other night against Southern Miss, that really gave us momentum on some of those drives.”
The Herd is only 33 percent on third-down conversions after a 1-for-11 in a 31-10 victory over Southern Miss. However, Marshall is a solid 88 percent on converting in the red zone.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get better (on third down),” said Herd sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek. “We put an emphasis on first down last week, wanted 75 percent of our first downs to be second-and-6 or better. We were 67 percent, which is good; 75 percent is a very high goal.
“We’ve got to get better at making reads and making plays on third down. You go back and watch the film and it wasn’t that the right play wasn’t called. We just didn’t check what we needed to check to … We’ve just got to be consistent. The way our defense is playing right now, if we just take care of the ball and put up halfway decent numbers, we’re going to win the game. That’s just how good our defense is right now.
“People look at it and say we’re not putting up the numbers we did last year, but this is a completely different team. We play opportunistic offense; we’re going to play great defense and great special teams and that’s going to be us this year. I’m not saying we can’t put up those flashy numbers; we just haven’t yet. We’ve seen growth every week and I think you’ll continue to see that throughout the rest of the season.”
It’s pretty easy to figure out why the Herd hasn’t lit up the stat sheet or scoreboard like it has in recent years. It’s about more than losing six starters from 2014, including Cato, slot receiver Tommy Shuler and every-game starter Chris Jasperse at center.
The 2015 Herd offense has used 12 players making their first career starts. That’s a huge number. Of the current starting 11 on that side of the ball, only four had made a start before this season – wideout Davonte Allen, left guard Sebastian Johansson, running back Devon Johnson and Selby – and Selby was at a different position.
Significant injuries have gone three-deep at running back, including Johnson. The Herd also has lost a starting quarterback and all-conference right tackle Clint Van Horn has played only two of the last 16 quarters due to injury. Right guard and right tackle have been manned by six players.
“We haven’t put up 40 points yet,” true freshman quarterback Chase Litton said. “We can’t sit here and rely on (the defense) every single game. The offense has got to go score some points … It’s just trying to be consistent. Whoever is in, not in, receiver-wise, offensive line-wise, quarterback-wise, we’ve just got to be consistent. We all do the same thing in practice, so once we get on the same page, we should be good.”
Selby, one of the veterans of the unit, said he sees an offense finding its legs as it remains in flux. “When you’ve got new faces out there with you – and some guys have never stepped on a college football field before – that’s big,” the Herd center said. “So, you need to get those guys out there, starting playing with them, get them some experience as quick as you can and get your groups together to be successful.
“We had glimpses of what our offense can look like against Southern Miss. There were some runs that were blocked up just as well as they were last year, so it’s not like we’re not making the same plays. They’re coming at different times now, coming when we need ‘em.
“We’re definitely trying to find the right fits at every position and we’ve dealt with some injuries, too, and we’re trying to get in the right direction with those fits. Deandre Reaves is doing a great job out there (at slot receiver). Chase has matured a lot and he’s doing a great job handling the offense and limiting turnovers, which is very good. As long as he just keep coming along … We need young guys like that to step up.
“Up front, AJ Addison, Jordan Dowrey, Cody Collins, Sandley Jean-Felix … We have young guys stepping up all over the field. There’s (end) Ryan Bee stepping up on defense. We need them to keep making plays. If we have guys keep stepping up, we’ll be all right.”
Yurachek played significant snaps last season as a true freshman, backing up then-senior Eric Frohnapfel. The tight end is one of those dozen who has gotten their first career starts this season, and said the only way Marshall will keep improving on offense is the way it’s happening.
“Obviously, we’ve had a bunch of revolving doors this year,” he said. “We had a quarterback change after Game 2 and we’ve had a revolving door on the offensive line – I don’t know how many … eight or nine guys have started on offensive line – and then Hyleck (Foster) moving out and Reaves moving in at slot receiver, so we’ve had a couple different guys at a lot of positions.
“I think one of the reasons we were struggling – well, not struggling, but not where we needed to be the first couple of games -- was because you saw that in guys who hadn’t played a lot of ball together, and then the quarterback situation and all that happened. But I think the more reps people get, that’s changing a lot. I think we’ve seen a lot more continuity as the season has gone on.”
Selby said it’s tough to hear fans compare the Herd offense then and now.
“You hear, ‘Aw, man, last year you guys were unstoppable on offense,’” the Herd center said. “And this is just a different group of guys. People have to understand we’re still out there making the same plays and calling the same plays, but we’re executing different. And we’re making plays when we need to make them.”
At his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Holliday said the Herd offense needs to improve, but pointed out it’s only one-third of a formula for success. He also noted that counting yards isn’t how a team scores.
“We scored quite a few points (against Southern Miss) being the 110th team in America on offense, but with that being said, we had some short fields,” he said. “When you go 40 yards to score, you don’t get quite as many yards as you do when you’re going 90. Don’t get me wrong; we need to get better offensively. I’m not saying that we’re close to getting where we need to be because we need to get better with third-down conversions.
“If you can play great defense, that’s where it all starts. From the day I took the job, I said, ‘To win championships, you have to play great defense to get that accomplished.’ If you can take the second phase … play great special teams. Then take care of the ball offensively. Just take care of it and when you get in the red zone, score. If we can take care of the ball and score when we get down there, then do the other two things, we have a pretty good shot at winning the game.
“You have to be able to take what that defense gives you -- and you have to be able to throw a slant, bubble or a fade -- because when they give you what they give you, you have to have the confidence that you’re going to make that play.
“I think in the last three years we’re in the top two or three in the country in total offense. Then, we were able to do those things. We have the skillset to do it, but we have to have the confidence to know that we can do that. The more we play, the better they’ll get and I think we’ve seen it.
“Not only have we grown as a team; we’ve grown at the quarterback position. (Litton is) 4-0 and that’s the only statistic that matters. If we can continue to stay on that deal, we’ll be fine.”