MCGILL: @HerdFB Run Game, Defense Provide the Formula
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 19, 2016
By Chuck McGill
MIAMI, Fla. – It is no secret a healthy running game and stingy defense will carry a football team far. It is a combination Marshall (3-7, 2-4 Conference USA) wouldn’t mind continuing when the Herd plays at FIU (3-7, 3-3 C-USA) on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Marshall’s offense piled up a 207 yards on 41 carries – a season-best rushing performance against FBS opponents – in last Saturday’s rout of Middle Tennessee. The Herd defense stifled a usually potent Middle Tennessee offense, holding the visitors to 283 yards in total – MT’s worst offensive output in 22 games.
The Herd won for the 22nd time in 23 games when eclipsing 200 rushing yards, and improved to 21-1 under coach Doc Holliday when holding opponents to fewer than 325 yards of total offense. In fact, Marshall has rushed for 200 yards and held opponents to fewer than 300 yards in the same game 11 times since Holliday took over as head coach before the 2010 season.
Marshall is 11-0 in those games.
“Now we have to ... see if we can duplicate it,” defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “It was positive. We’re trying to build on positive and build for where we’re headed. Everything we do from this point on can be a significant contribution to building in the direction we want to go to get back to the way we’ve operated in the past.”
The offense will try to get a repeat performance from its patchwork offensive line, which was missing guard Michael Selby and tackle Clint Van Horn from the right side last week. Selby (shoulder) is out for the season and Van Horn is doubtful.
The line paved the way for sophomore running back Anthony Anderson, who set a career high with 109 yards on the ground and became the Herd’s first 100-yard rusher this season.
“It was one of those things we had to see it happen in a game and know that it can happen in any game,” Anderson said. “Everybody felt a connection. We did a lot of different things as far as spending time together and we didn’t have a doubt in our mind we were going to have a good game.”
“It starts with the offensive line,” he added. “Before the play even starts they are talking to us and telling us what goes on, so we are already reading our keys before the play starts. It’s one of those things that if they get the push we have to hit the hole and go.”
Running back Tony Pittman added a season-high 88 yards for a run game that averaged 5.05 yards per attempt – MU's season best against C-USA opponents.
“The line blocked their butts off and the backs did a great job of reading the movement, depending on what kind of run we had, whether they were reading the d-tackle or reading the d-end,” offensive coordinator Bill Legg said.
The running game helped quarterback Chase Litton, who threw for four touchdowns against zero interceptions. Most importantly, Litton was never sacked and the offense didn’t turn the ball over for the third consecutive game. Both are positive trends the Herd would like to see continue on the road Saturday.
“When the offensive line does that and the run game does that it opens things up for me,” Litton said.
The turnover-free game helped Marshall escape with a plus-four turnover margin, the first time a Holliday-coached team has forced at least four turnovers without committing one. If Marshall continues its success on defense it’ll be with a thin unit – and a young one, too. For example, Marshall has 25 sacks this season, 19.5 of which have come from freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re kind of plugging in a lot of pieces as guys are coming or going for different reasons right now,” Heater said. “We’re just trying to plug in the pieces, but we’re just trying to get guys to know what they’re doing and play more confidently. I just know that we’re not that bad.”
“Every game there’s moments where it’s pretty doggone good but it’s not with any consistency,” Heater added. “We’re trying to grow this team up overall and we’re trying to grow up our defense. We’re not ever going to be where we need to be and where we’ve been unless the defense is really good. That’s just the way it is. It can’t be good; it’s got to be really good. That’s why we’ve had success.”