BOGACZYK: Litton Wants to Be Better than Self
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 28, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall had just ground out a Homecoming football victory Saturday evening over North Texas. Herd Coach Doc Holliday was putting a period on things, but not an exclamation point.
“We’re 7-1,” Holliday said. “Our young freshman quarterback is 6-0 and that’s where it starts. You see him continue to grow every week and we’re trying to help him with some things.”
That true freshman QB, Chase Litton, might be 6-0, but to listen to him, he’s “6-and-Oh, no!”
The 6-foot-5 Tampa, Fla., native isn’t satisfied with his play, and while that can be a good thing, it also can bring unneeded pressure to an evolving situation.
Litton has played with nine offensive linemen as regulars at five spots, with five running backs and with a receiver corps on which the most productive catcher is slot man Deandre Reaves, who has the same number of career starts as Litton – and Reaves is a senior.
“It's great that he's not satisfied,” Holliday said of his new quarterback at the coach’s weekly news conference Tuesday. “Great players are never satisfied with the way they play. I'm glad he feels that way because we all have to get better. Not just him.
“We have to become better coaches, better players at each position, and as good as the defense, offense and special teams are playing, we could still get better as a team every day. Hopefully once you get to that championship, you can say it's the best you've been all year. That's a great mindset to have and I hope not only him, but all of our guys have the same mindset.”
Litton isn’t being asked to win games, just manage games. And he suffers by comparison – perhaps even in his own mind – to the Herd starter the last four years, Rakeem Cato. He only topped Marshall passing records that had belonged to Byron Leftwich and/or Chad Pennington.
“It’s the speed, trying to adapt to that has been an adjustment and I’ve gotten a handle on that,” Litton said earlier this week when asked about his biggest step forward. “That’s helped me a lot. Personally, I’ve just got to be consistent. I’m not happy with what I’m doing with the offense right now … (offensive line) Coach (Alex) Mirabal says, ‘Chase, you know you won the game, right?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, but it’s not where I want to be.
“It’s not where this offense needs to be. You compare this offense to last year and it’s nowhere near where we were. And I feel that’s on me. It’s not on anybody else. We have all the athletes; we returned a lot of guys and they put up tremendous numbers last year -- who aren’t doing that again. And that’s not because of them, it’s because of me. I’ve just got to go out and make plays. I’m just not being as consistent as I want to be, as I need to be.”
Cato started 49 of his 53 Marshall games. Litton has started six. He’s 6-0. Cato was 2-4 in his first six starts, the same as Leftwich. Pennington was 5-1 in 1995.
The last Marshall QB to win his first six starts was Eric Kresser, who went 14-0 in a 15-0 season as Marshall capped its NCAA Division I-AA year with a second national championship in 1996 … and Kresser was a senior transfer from the Florida Gators.
Litton’s numbers rank fourth this season among true freshman quarterback regulars – Josh Rosen of UCLA, Brent Rypien of Boise State and Tanner Mangum of BYU – who is 22 and just starting out in college football after his two-year Mormon mission in northern Chile.
Fortunately, Litton has been able to work with the same center, junior Michael Selby, while three of the other four offensive line positions have been a game of dinged and dented musical chairs.
“You would think it would really shake things up a little bit, but what Coach Mirabal does with them is ‘five strong every time,’” Litton said, refusing to buy the lack-of-continuity excuse. “Whether we have a right tackle playing right guard – like with Tom Collins (against North Texas) or a right guard playing left guard, with Jordan Dowrey, or we have another guy go out (Sebastian Johansson), or with AJ Addison coming off the bench to play right tackle for Clint (Van Horn).
“They’re really stepping up. I’m more than proud of their play. Mikey (Selby) is putting them in the right situation to make plays, and that’s what they’re doing. We may have a couple missed assignments here and there, which you can’t have coming up at the end of the season, with our last stretch of games. But if we can clean those things up offensively, we can be very good. Personally, I’ve got to be more consistent and get better and focus on the little things, whether it being a running back having to block who or an offensive lineman having to block who – I have to know.’
To be sure, Litton has grown more than the hint of a goatee on his 20-year-old chin. Holliday likes Litton’s 12-to-4 touchdown-interception ratio, with only two picks in four Conference USA wins. Litton rolled into the job in Week 3, after two-game starter Michael Birdsong turned out to be more than battered and bruised in a loss at Ohio.
“At the start of the season, I really couldn’t say much, that’s because I just wasn’t in this situation,” Litton said when asked about the degree of difficulty in leading a team as a true freshman. “Being the backup quarterback as a freshman, I don’t have that much leeway with a lot of people. Not a lot of people might listen to me or take me seriously at the time.
“But those first couple of games (he started, against Norfolk State and Kent State), I didn’t say much. I just went out and played whether I made a mistake or someone else made a mistake, it was, ‘All right, come on.’ But you could tell (last) Saturday that there was some vocal coming out of all of us. We expect a lot from one another.
“We expect a lot from every single person on the offense, so when one person messes up, we’re on their butt to get ‘em going, because we know we can’t have these mistakes. We can’t have these little errors. We can’t only put up 30-something points. We got to be that team from last year that put up, 40, 50 a game, and had that swag doing it and have confidence doing it. We’ve got to get back to that.”
Litton may sound like a broken record, but if he stays in the job as Cato did – progressing way past one freshman-season meltdown in a monsoon-like loss at UCF – he’ll have a chance to break records. For now, as Holliday said, it’s about winning games, and it’s tough to expect 2013 and 2014 offensive results when the cast of characters changes with recurring injuries.
“Pressure, yeah,” Litton said. “But no pressure, no results … We’re going to have pressure. We’re going to hear people saying, ‘You’ve got to do this, do that.’ The critics can say everything but offensively, we do have to do better.
“I have to get better. I’ve got to get on the (same) page with these receivers. I’ve got NFL guys on this offense and I’ve got to get them the ball, get them ready to play, got to get them putting 60 points up on the board because that’s exactly what we’re capable of, and we’re not doing it.”
When the Herd (7-1, 4-0) makes its first football venture to Charlotte (2-5, 0-4) on Saturday, Holliday and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Legg hope to help Litton take the next steps toward being the quarterback all three of them want the blond Floridian to be. He’s 105-for-185 (.573) for 1,159 yards.
Want an apples-to-apples comparison? In his first six games as a 2011 as a Holliday-recruited-from-Florida true freshman, Cato was 97-of-176 (.551) for 1,317 yards, 7 TDs and 7 interceptions.
Litton isn’t listening. He’s channeling more recent history.
“I have to stop throwing off my back foot,” Litton said when asked what he feels he needs to do better. “There were times (against North Texas) … I was watching film (Monday) morning and I was like, ‘There’s no one in front of my face. I don’t know why I shaded back.’
“There are times when people are in my face and I try to get around them, not step into ‘em or get hit in the jaw, which isn’t the best, but … I’ve just got to be consistent with my form, got to be consistent with how I play.
“How I throw a 5-yard out route has to be the same as how I throw a 15-yard out route. I can’t shy away from coverage and stuff like that so I’ve just got get more consistent personally. I just need to step up. It’s no one else on this offense; it’s me.”
Cutting to the “Chase,” it usually is the quarterback – no matter the age or experience. Holliday and Legg insist Litton has all the tools for greatness. What Litton needs now is what Legg practiced with Cato, too – patience.