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Chuck Landon: Breaking down MU's narrow win

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Welcome to "Second-Guess Tuesday."

The agenda today examines Marshall's closer-than-expected 24-23 win over Conference USA newcomer Florida Atlantic Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla.

Ready. Set. Start second-guessing.

MU's coaching staff showed its best management of timeouts this season against FAU.

That has been a bone of contention.

There was criticism of the use of timeouts -- as in lack thereof -- during Marshall's previous two games. At Virginia Tech, Marshall ended the first half with two timeouts still remaining instead of utilizing them. A similar situation occurred at the end of the half against UTSA.

But during the crucial last 6:47 of the FAU game, Marshall's management of timeouts was masterful.

MU's coaches allowed FAU to run six plays before calling a timeout with 3:16 remaining. One play later, the Herd called timeout again at the 3:09 mark. Then, after two more FAU running plays, Marshall called its third timeout with 2:19 left.

The skilled use of timeouts allowed the Herd to regain possession with 2:06 remaining. That gave MU enough time to mount its game-winning drive.

Well done, coaches.

Somewhere near Foxboro, Mass., Aaron Dobson must be perplexed.

Last season Marshall rarely threw deep, despite the presence of the game-breaking senior wide receiver. Why, New England Patriots' star quarterback Tom Brady already has taken more downfield shots to Dobson during his rookie NFL season than Marshall did all last year.

So, what's the Herd doing this season?

You guessed it.

Despite the lack of a legitimate "X" receiver as well as a muddled situation at the "Y" (the other outside receiver), MU is taking shot after shot downfield.

Not just against man-to-man coverage, either.

How's it working?

Not too well.

Marshall hasn't completed a deep pass to an outside receiver for a touchdown this season.

The offensive line was one of Marshall's perceived strengths, but it has been struggling lately.

Quarterback Rakeem Cato was sacked four times by Virginia Tech and, then, another five by UTSA. He was sacked only once at FAU, but the Owls consistently pressured Cato.

What gives?

There have been problems at the left tackle position. Senior Gage Niemeyer was victimized at Virginia Tech and also struggled against UTSA. When he allowed a sack at FAU during the first quarter, Niemeyer was benched for the rest of the game.

First, he was replaced by Clint Van Horn. Then, Garrett Scott switched from his customary right tackle spot to the left side with Van Horn moving to right tackle. It stayed that way the rest of the game.

But it isn't just pass protection. The Herd's lack of production lately in the ground game also reflects on the offensive line. Since the first half of the Virginia Tech game, Marshall's running attack is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry and 96.7 yards per game.

The offensive line problems need fixing.

FAU coach Carl Pelini contributed mightily to Marshall's win with a very suspect decision.

Deciding to throw in a third-and-nine situation with 2:19 remaining instead of running the ball and taking more time off the clock is debatable at best.

That allowed MU to take possession for its game-winning drive with 2:06 remaining. A run on third-down probably would have reduced that to 1:31.

And, yes, that would have made the drive much more difficult.

Thanks, Carl.

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

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