O-Line shouldering the load
HUNTINGTON — It didn’t matter who was in the backfield on Saturday afternoon for Marshall.
The end result of a handoff was big chunks of yardage for the Herd offense and first downs that led to points.
Marshall rushed for 381 yards as a team on 32 carries with five of those carries going for touchdowns.
Those touchdown runs included scampers of 71 (Kevin Grooms), 16 (Essray Taliaferro) and 49 (Steward Butler) while Taliaferro and Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato added untouched scoring runs of seven and six yards as well.
And there was only one common denominator with all of the runs.
It wasn’t the running back. It wasn’t the play that was called.
It was the offensive line execution up front.
“We knew going in that it was going to be a physical game,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “We talked to our kids about no one was going to walk through those gates and be more physical than we were. That’s part of the things we expect to happen.”
The Herd offensive line has stayed the course and built chemistry behind its nucleus of veterans and a resurgent band of younger players.
Tackles Garrett Scott and Gage Niemeyer, center Chris Jasperse and guard Alex Schooler are experienced leaders while young players Sebastian Johansson (guard), Clint Van Horn (right tackle) and Michael Selby (center/guard) have moved in nicely for the Herd.
In fact, Van Horn and Selby — two of the youngest guys for the Herd — have graded out near the highest each week since moving into the rotation.
The fruits of that hard work has been back-to-back 300-yard rushing performances that have fueled the Herd to lopsided wins over UAB and Southern Miss.
“It’s the first time at Marshall that we had three backs with 100-plus and that’s great to see for those guys,” Jasperse said. “They are getting better every day. They are hitting the holes, we’re opening them up and everyone is one the same page and we are executing very well.”
On Saturday, Marshall set its all-time record for yards per rush, churning out 11.9 yards per carry in the win over UAB. The mark breaks the week-old record that they had set against Southern Miss when the team broke off 11.3 yards per run.
In two consecutive weeks, Marshall’s rushing attack averaged more than 11 yards each time a running back had the ball in their hands.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that, really,” Holliday said. “That’s impressive.”
The success has not just been limited to the rushing attack, however.
In each of the last two wins — a 56-14 win over UAB and a 61-13 victory over Southern Miss — Cato has not been sacked.
Against UAB, he wasn’t even touched. The Blazers got credit for just one quarterback hurry in the game, which came two plays before Cato rushed into the end zone.
Cato gave his offensive linemen lots of credit following the win.
“Those guys come to practice hard everyday and (Marshall offensive line) coach (Alex) Mirabal coaches them really hard,” Cato said. “They listen, they take coaching and their willing to get better and learn new things and just keep fighting.
“Those guys just stick together. The O-Line probably has the closest bond on the team of anybody. They really click and they know each other well, so they know what it takes.”
While the Herd offense has been clicking, the team faces the ultimate test this week with a tough road contest at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are coming off a lopsided loss to East Carolina, but the Herd has never defeated Tulsa in Conference USA play.
If the Herd is to get that first win over the Golden Hurricane, Marshall will have to win the battle up front — something it’s done quite well in recent weeks.
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