Marshall gets over case of nerves
HUNTINGTON — Nine plays, 11 total yards and no first downs.
Those were the numbers for the Marshall University offense after one quarter in the football season opener against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Not exactly the way the Conference USA offensive juggernaut in 2012 wanted to debut in 2013.
“Very upset at myself,” said starting center Chris Jasperse. “A few plays I didn’t block the right way and I had the botched snap. All the hard work we do in the off-season, the defense making stops, we had to get it going.”
That Marshall did as the Thundering Herd and RedHawks left the field at halftime in a 14-14 tie. The second half was all Marshall as the Herd finished with 94 snaps, 591 total yards, had one back over 100 yards and one close. That added up to a 52-14 victory against one of Marshall’s former big rivals from its days in the Mid-American Conference.
“I wasn’t happy at all,” Alex Schooler, a senior and starter at right guard, said in trying to explain the lackluster first 15 minutes. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm. Once we found it, you saw what happened.”
Essray Taliaferro, who racked up 89 yards on 19 carries and scored once, said nerves might have been a problem early.
“First-game jitters. We finally get to go against someone else,” he said. “We were a little frustrated. Coach (head coach Doc Holliday) talked about adversity and how you handle it. Bail or pick it up. We picked it up.”
Junior quarterback Rakeem Cato delivered as a catalyst once again. The preseason pick as C-USA offensive player of the year scrambled for 15 yards and a first down early in the second quarter. Kevin Grooms, not totally healthy, then ripped off a 39-yard run to put the ball inside the Miami 10. Taliaferro got the call three straight times and he went over from a yard out on third down to cap a 9-play, 80-yard march.
“The offensive line had to get acquainted with what Miami was doing,” Taliaferro said. “You don’t have any idea until you see it.”
Butler led the MU rushers with 107 yards on 17 attempts. The Herd piled up 304 yards on 57 attempts. Cato ran nine times for 57 yards and threw for 253 and five scores.
“Coach Brown (running backs coach Thomas Brown) tells us to run behind our pads,” Taliferro said. “That first contact won’t do it. They have to gang tackle. At halftime we knew what we had to do. The defense stepped up. The offense had to kick it in gear and we did.”
The Herd had one of the top offenses in C-USA and nationally a year ago and the final three quarters Saturday proved it’s ready to pick up where it left off. A tough spring practice and off-season conditioning has the big men up front ready to run 90-plus plays a game.
“It feels good to get things going,” Jasperse said. “We’ve got some great backs. We just need to give them a place to go.”
“We play fast, the backs do a great job and that works to our advantage,” Schooler said. “Conditioning plays a huge role. We have some talented backs. If we can get them to the second level, they can make things happen.”
Marshall’s next test is next Saturday at home against Gardner-Webb. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
“The offensive line gets a lot of credit,” Holliday said. “Physically they’re different. They’re bigger, stronger.They struggled early, but really came on.
“We have to maintain that kind of effort.”
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