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JP Grace: In publishing and football, creativity counts

Nov. 05, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Note: The column below was written before the Herd's 61-13 shellacking of winless Southern Mississippi on Saturday. Given Marshall's 51-49 loss to Middle Tennessee the week before, however, our columnist stands by his critique of the team's performance.

In putting a book together as a publisher, I must -- if the product is going to look good and perform well among its intended readership -- pay careful attention to the fundamentals: My team and I have to make the text appealing and error-free in spelling, grammar, punctuation and content. Beyond that, however, a book needs some creativity in story-telling and also, graphically, in design.

It occurred to me recently, as the son of a high-school football coach who ended up in the Illinois Coaches' Hall of Fame, that the same ingredients -- getting the fundamentals right and adding creativity -- apply to producing a winning football team.

Take Marshall's 2013 edition under Doc Holliday and his offensive and defensive coordinators.

Many of the fundamentals seem to be accounted for: Rakeem Cato's numbers have been reasonably good, including few interceptions and very few sacks -- thank you offensive line! Even so, his numbers in what is still a winning season are down from 2012.

On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Chuck Heater's boys are performing better than the 2012 defense, which was one of the poorest in Division I college football. Still, adjustments were not made against Middle Tennessee, which at one point ran the ball 21 times in a row, often off tackle, picking up sizable chunks of yardage.

And so help me those defensive backs had better learn to intercept catchable balls instead of just knocking them down. Two or three plays before the Blue Raiders scored the game-winning TD on a nine-yard pass straight over the middle, a Marshall defender had a ball right in his hands with the intended receiver out of the play and failed to secure a catch. Had that interception been made, it was game over and Marshall would have come home with a 49-45 victory.

My major hope, however, is that something can be done, mid-season, to inject more creativity in an otherwise all too predictable Thundering Herd offense.

Cato, a decent scrambling quarterback, appears to run only if all receivers are covered. I detect few if any planned runs, such as on a quarterback draw. And the Herd almost never calls a naked bootleg, a quarterback rollout against the grain of the play, with an option for the QB to run.

I'm a fan of well-executed screen passes, and those too seem in awfully short supply in 2013. And almost never do we see a short toss to a running back, especially after that back has started the play as a blocker.

The wide receivers need help in losing their defenders, and perhaps crossing routes would be a plus.

Many college programs have picked up on the NFL tactic of having receivers go long, then stop abruptly and come back for a ball thrown behind them, effectively ditching the covering defender. Except we almost never see this done by Marshall.

I've never been a fan of whoop-dee-do trick plays, although occasionally they can really take the opposition by surprise. So I'm not rooting for double or triple reverses or throwbacks to the quarterback or tackle eligible pass plays.

But more creativity there nonetheless needs to be, both in rushing plays and pass patterns, if Marshall wants to avoid having what looks like a pretty limited playbook be accurately picked up by its opponents' scouts and translated into depressing stops on the field.

John Patrick Grace wrote prep sports for The (now defunct) Long Island Press while studying for his master's degree In journalism at Columbia University. He is now a book editor and publisher based in downtown Huntington and teaches The Life Writing Class.

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