Offense strikes back
HUNTINGTON -- For a brief time Thursday afternoon, Marshall's offense put the "P" back in prolific.
The defense had enjoyed an edge in recent workouts at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, so Thursday the offense decided to punch back.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato, the Conference USA's Most Valuable Player in 2012, found his targets nearly every snap. Backups Blake Frohnapfel and Gunnar Holcombe enjoyed success as well.
Running backs Kevin Grooms and Essray Taliaferro, and their backfield mates, found holes to race through, particularly on the zone read option.
Receivers, led by record-setter Tommy Shuler, found room to operate in the secondary time and again. Whether it was a short route or one designed to stretch the defense, Shuler and his mates broke free and the quarterbacks delivered the ball on time.
That combination helped Marshall rack up 534 total yards and 40.9 points per game in 2012 and the play Thursday had spectators in the East stands envisioning similar success this fall.
And after a catch, Shuler and his fellow receivers did work in a celebration or two. After catching a short TD pass, Shuler got up and did a dance in the end zone. After making a diving catch for a 25-yard gain, Shuler popped up and flipped the ball to the spotter to sell the catch.
And when Shawney Kersey raced into the end zone to complete a 70-yard TD reception, he, with some urging from Shuler, raced over to the goalposts, jumped and dunked the ball over the cross bar.
"We've been slow on offense. We had to come out work, speed it up," said Shuler, who hauled in 110 passes in 2012 to become the Herd's single-season leader in that category. "That's good for us and that's what it takes to win championships. The defense had been beating us the past few days."
As for the post-catch demonstrations Shuler said whatever it takes to increase the enthusiasm, he's up to it. On game day, though, that spirit must be contained. Celebrate then, and out comes the penalty flag and that won't set well with coach Doc Holliday.
"I'm one of the team leaders. I had to come out and set an example," Shuler said. "I told the guys let's do it. Make plays and have fun."
Kersey was in much better spirits Thursday than after last Saturday's scrimmage when he dropped some balls. Extra time with receivers coach Mike Furrey prior to practice paid off.
"A pretty good day compared to Saturday," Kersey said. "I'm a lot more comfortable. I understand the signals. Coach (Furrey) gave me individual tutoring about an hour before meetings. I just took my time, took it slow and things started to click. So far."
Kersey said he enjoyed the end zone dunk and one-handed leaping catch of a Frohnapfel pass down the sideline.
"Coach said we needed to come out with some energy," Kersey said. "Guys like me do a lot of dancing. I said do something different. I dunked it. It felt good. On the (sideline) catch, I watched the ball, jumped and grabbed it. That was it. Great throw by Fro (Frohnapfel)."
Holliday enjoyed seeing his high-powered offense hit another gear Thursday.
"For the most part these kids have come out and played extremely hard. The defense has kind of gotten the upper edge the last two or three practices," Holliday said. "I think the offense came out here with a purpose. That's good to see. They met the challenge. They made plays.
Holliday said days like Thursday show what Kersey is capable of doing.
"He's had a great week," Holliday said. "It just tells you what kind of kid he is, what kind of player he's going to be. He put it behind him."
Holliday just smiled when asked about Kersey's dunk.
"Just in practice," he said.
Holliday had another reason Thursday to be in good spirits. Earlier in the day, the Marshall Board of Governors approved the contract for construction of the school's Indoor Athletic Facility at a regularly scheduled meeting.
The contract, which was awarded to J&H Erectors out of Portsmouth, Ohio for $16.35 million, will help the athletic department construct the building, which will house a 120-yard turf field, a 300-meter track and the buildout of the shell of a new Hall of Fame, a state-of-the-art student-athlete academic center and a Sports Medicine Translational Research Center. The athletic department is currently closing in on its goal of $20 million in private funds to finish these three additions. Currently, $15 million has been raised toward this goal. The total project is worth $30 million and includes construction of a soccer complex at the site of the old Veterans Memorial Field House.
"That's huge for the entire athletic department," Holliday said. "Can't turn back now. It's tremendous for our recruiting. We'll be able to work out in the winter and prepare for bowl games. It's critical for everyone."
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