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Chuck Landon: Play-action pivotal for a Marshall win

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 01:33 AM

ATHENS, Ohio — Let’s reduce the Marshall-Ohio game to simplest terms.

Put a big pot of water on the stove. Toss in Marshall’s playbook. Heat to 212 degrees.

And what does this key confrontation boil down to on Saturday?

A play-action pass.

More or less, that’s what Marshall’s success or failure hinges on when the Herd visits Ohio at 8 p.m. Saturday here in Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

If Marshall can use play-action passing successfully, the Herd should win the game. If not? Marshall probably will lose for a third consecutive season.

It’s that simple.

The Herd has to utilize play-action passing successfully because offensive football is a whole lot easier when a team actually can sell a legitimate play-action fake to a defense.

Know how many times Marshall has been able to do that during the last two meetings with Ohio?

None.

And, more than any other reason, that’s why the Bobcats have won the last two games in this series.

What makes play-action passing so significant is it requires an offense to mount a successful running attack. In turn, it allows the offense to fake a handoff to a running back, freeze the opposing linebackers and, consequently, open up the passing game.

But first the team has to have a successful running game. And that hasn’t happened for Marshall. In 2012, for example, the Herd had 22 rushing attempts compared to 65 passes.

That ratio doesn’t work.

A solid running game begets a more effective passing attack.

And that is Marshall’s goal here today.

“We have to find balance,” said Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg. “We’ve been in search of that for a long time. I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been to be able to mix and match and not live or die with the drop-back pass.

“Run the ball effectively enough that a play-action pass actually works.”

Goodness knows, it gets a lot easier when a team actually can sell a legitimate play-action fake.

“It sure does,” said Legg with a grin and nod of his head.

That means Marshall’s improving ground game has to continue to improve.

“It has grown and it has to continue to grow this week,” said Legg. “We can’t go out there and throw the ball 90 times or we’re going to run the legs off our kids. We’re not going to have the juice in the fourth quarter that we need when the game is on the line.

“We have to create balance. We have to be balanced. If there’s a trick offensively, it’s not some new-fangled play as much as it is finding balance. Being able to run the ball effectively is part of being balanced.”

Will Ohio’s first objective defensively be taking away the run? Of course. It’s every defense’s prime objective. But Marshall still has to establish the run and, then, take what the Ohio defense is giving.

“Obviously, if they are giving us the pass, we’re going to throw the pass,” said Legg. “But if we have five and they have five, we’ve got to be able to block five-for-five with some consistency.

“Understand, we may not be able to do it 100 percent of the time because they’re pretty good at what they do, too. But we have to be able to run the ball with some consistency.”

So, will fans see some play-action passing from the Herd?

Yes.

Marshall will win, 44-24.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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