BOGACZYK: Johansson Fishing for Another Big Finish
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 25, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – At the Subway on Fifth Avenue within shouting distance of Joan C. Edwards Stadium, a customer comes in quite regularly and orders a footlong tuna sub.
He’s become known to the workers there as “Big Tuna Guy.”
Turns out he’s also a big-game guy.
It’s Sebastian “Swede” Johansson, who in his three seasons as a starter on Marshall’s offensive line has gone into a very meaningful regular-season finale on “Black Friday” with a big fish on the line, so to speak.
In 2013, Johansson and his teammates hosted East Carolina in a showdown for the Conference USA East Division championship. The Herd routed its way into a first C-USA Championship Game appearance.
Last season, Marshall was 11-0 and ranked in the national polls when Western Kentucky came to “The Joan” and ended the Herd’s unbeaten dreams for a College Football Playoff access bowl berth with a wild, 67-66 overtime win.
Now, Johansson – a senior -- and the Herd head to WKU for Friday’s noon battle of 9-2 teams for the East division title, with Marshall bidding to become the first team to reach three straight C-USA Championship Games since the league went to divisional play following expansion and realignment in 2005.
Even in 2012, when Johansson was closing his redshirt freshman season without playing, Marshall went into a Thanksgiving Friday game at East Carolina at 5-6, with a Military Bowl berth in hand if … and crushingly fell, 65-59, in two overtimes.
And in 2011, when Johansson first arrived in the program, Marshall was 4-6 in mid-November, then won a 23-22 nailbiter at Memphis and topped ECU, 34-27, in overtime to reach 6-6 and earn Coach Doc Holliday’s first bowl bid – which developed into a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl triumph over FIU.
“They remember November,” as Holliday likes to say.
“Sometimes that’s why you play football, isn’t it?” Johansson said earlier this week when asked about having a meaningful finish to his four seasons of college football. “You want to play for something. And it’s not fun when you go out there and it’s patty-cake for a couple of hours, so I love it personally.”
Johansson never played a down in his first two seasons after arriving at Marshall from Karlstad, Sweden, as he received more schooling in American football than what he knew from seven seasons of playing the sport in his native land and one year as an exchange student at Raceland (Ky.) High School.
Then, Alex Mirabal arrived as the Herd’s offensive line coach in February 2013 and Johansson blossomed into a starter by the end of that spring practice. He’ll make his 37th career Herd start on Friday, tops for a current Marshall player on offense. He has 20 consecutive starts at left guard, where he returned from left tackle following a high ankle sprain early last season.
Johansson is an introspective sort. It’s not often you hear a football player throw out “egocentric” during an interview, either. Yet, the 6-foot-5, 297-pound is only the definition of that word when needed … like this week, with preseason C-USA favorite WKU as the opponent.
“What it comes down to – Coach (Bill) Legg (offensive coordinator) talked about it (Sunday) – it’s about us. We can’t be looking at everybody else. We have to look at what we’ve got to do, have to go out and execute all week and like we’ve been doing for the past bye week we’ve had and just keep working at it.”
Asked if the improving Herd offense is concerned about having to outscore the Hilltoppers, Johansson said that can’t be the focus.
“From the start of the season until last week, everybody has seen slow progress (in the Herd offense), but it’s been progress all though,” the red-haired, bearded guard said. “And we just need to keep going on that. We just can’t … Everybody’s got to buy in this week and hopefully it will turn out in our favor this year.
“From what we’ve seen this year, our defense has stepped up a lot from last year, and they’re playing good football right now. And like we said, with our offense, we’re getting better by each week, but we’ve just got to focus on what we’ve got to do on Friday. We can’t be looking too much at the other team and so on.”
How difficult is it to focus on selves?
“It’s hard. You hear a lot of noise out there, and you’ve just got to stay focused and be a little bit more egocentric when it comes to it … look at what I can do to help the team out.”
Johansson, who gained his MU degree in sports management and marketing last December and is taking classes toward a health sciences degree, has played 815 of the Herd’s 867 offensive snaps this season and is third on the line with 37 knockdowns.
He’s part of an offensive front on which he’s the lone senior, a unit that has coped with multiple injuries and has played its best in two November games. Marshall has allowed only one sack in the last three outings.
He likes the fact that true freshman quarterback Chase Litton threw for 486 yards in a win at Charlotte and then Marshall posted 289 rushing yards in a Nov. 14 shutout of FIU to sandwich a tough triple-overtime loss at Middle Tennessee.
“I think for his confidence, it’s great,” Johansson said of Litton, who is 8-1 in nine starts. “Playing as a freshman, I think he’s stepped up tremendously. It’s not easy coming in being that young and being the big cheese of everything, but I think if he continues to work hard and have a good positive attitude about it the sky’s the limit for him.
“And running the football is always important. That sets up everything and coming off a game like we did, it’s just big check marks on that side of the column. And it feels really good.
“We’ve just got to keep going what we had all last game and just have, of course, positive yards on first down and third down … We just have to convert. We can’t let (punter) Tyler (Williams) be out there too much. Put it like that.”
Johansson laughed when asked “how sick he was” of hearing about last season’s WKU-Herd game. “Pretty sick of it, pretty sick of it,” he said, with a pause. “Last year was a great game, and we just ran out of time. It was a lot of fun last year, but inside it hurts, so hopefully we can put it behind us.”
Yeah, the Scandinavian Big Tuna Guy has gone fishing in these kind of games before.