Chuck Landon: Marshall offense evens out defenses
Marshall's opponents might have to add a new position to their coaching staffs.
How else is the opposition going to deal with all the wrinkles the Herd's offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators are throwing at them?
Wrinkles, wrinkles and more wrinkles.
Marshall showed plenty of them during a 52-14 win over Miami (Ohio) Saturday night at Edwards Stadium.
First, on offense.
The most significant wrinkle was running the option for the first time since Rakeem Cato became the starting quarterback in 2011. Cato ran an option to the left-side midway through the second quarter and kept the ball for a nice gain. Later, second-team quarterback Blake Frohnapfel ran an option for a six-yard gain.
The option is the perfect wrinkle to add to Marshall's prolific offense. Besides giving opposing defensive coordinators one more threat to work on during game week preparation, which merely takes up more practice time, the option is actually a viable weapon.
Now, that Cato is bigger, faster and more willing to run the ball, linebackers can't ignore him on the zone-read. Then, when option is added to that package, it is a great way to get Marshall's swift running back corps into open space.
Imagine Essray Taliaferro, Kevin Grooms and Stew Butler taking an option pitch to the house. That could happen anytime Marshall runs the option.
And what if fullback/tight end Devon Johnson were added to the package? The Herd actually could run a true triple-option with the quarterback reading the defensive tackle on the belly to the fullback, pulling the ball back, reading the defensive end on the keeper and/or making the option pitch to the tailback.
Talk about making opposing defensive coordinators join "Hair Club for Men." That would be the perfect payback for Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg, who doesn't need a comb anymore.
"If their end knifes down hard I have to keep the ball and Coach Legg trusts me with doing that," said Cato. "If Legg calls the option for us, we just have to capitalize and I have to make a smart decision on whether I should hand the ball off or keep the ball.
"Once we keep doing that and the defense watches me running the ball, it's going to be even tougher to stop our offense. But I'll hand the ball off more than I'll keep the ball."
Next, there's the defensive wrinkle.
That particularly occurred on third down when Marshall substituted a package designed for just that situation. The Herd switched to a 3-3-5 alignment with Jarquez Samuel as the lone tackle, flanked by Alex Bazzie and Ra'Shawde Myers.
The linebackers were Evan McKelvey in the middle, joined by Raheem Waiters and Derek Mitchell. The secondary stayed in its usual nickel alignment.
This new wrinkle worked so well, Miami managed to convert only two of 13 third-down situations.
First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Heater obviously was pleased with that ratio.
Finally, there's the special teams wrinkle.
Besides Amoreto "Thunder Leg" Curraj booting six touchbacks on kickoffs, the Herd actually tried to return some punts instead of always going for blocks. The result was a 28-yard return by Devon Smith.
Those wrinkles leave opponents in a quandary.
Spray starch and an iron.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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