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Marshall running game back for bowl

MU football
Dec. 10, 2009 @ 08:59 AM

HUNTINGTON -- That "pop" is back in the Marshall University offense.

For much of the football season, Thundering Herd tailback Darius Marshall ranked as the nation's No. 2 running back. Such production resulted equal parts from the junior's explosive style and an intact offensive line prying running lanes.

For eight games, the starters remained the same. Left tackle Brandon Campbell, left guard Ryan Tillman, center Chad Schofield, right guard Jimmy Rogers and right tackle Daniel Baldridge helped lead the Thundering Herd to a 5-3 start.

Then came injuries and shuffling. For two games, the front's left side shifted with C.J. Wood and Landis Provancha earning starts. The opening day line returned for the regular season finale, but injuries lingered.

Since that forgettable Nov. 28 loss at UTEP, linemen have healed while awaiting word on a postseason opportunity. Now healthy, the original starting group is practicing in preparations for Marshall's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl appearance. The Herd (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA) and Ohio University (9-4, 7-1 Mid-American Conference) square off Dec. 26 at Ford Field in Detroit. Kickoff is 1 p.m. and ESPN will televise the game.

Marshall averages 138.1 rushing yards a game and Darius Marshall eclipsed 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season.

Two and sometimes three tight end sets aid offensive coordinator John Shannon's power approach, led by Lee Smith.

"Chad Schofield and I were laughing the other day," said Smith, a 6-foot-6, 267-pound junior tight end. "We were watching film from early in the season and what a punch and what a pop the offensive line had.

"I remember the team, everybody was excited because this was the best offensive line we've had in the four years I've been here.

"In the last five years under (former head) coach (Mark) Snyder's tenure we've built some tough guys that work hard and do the right things on and off the field. And (during the season) even the ones who haven't been playing have been banged up.

"And then you have Chad Schofield getting banged up at Central Florida. Baldridge has been injured. Campbell has been under the weather."

Such ailments since have been rehabbed, evidenced by Wednesday's afternoon practice. The line, including Smith, worked together, along with Darius Marshall, who missed the UTEP game because of an ankle injury.

"Now they're all healthy," Smith said. "All of our five that we started the game with against Southern Illinois (the season opener) are healthy, and to see all of those five out there again, having fun, it's great.

"It's chemistry. When you have many injuries and guys coming in -- it's not so much that the first guy is better than the second guy, but it's chemistry.

"When you've been working together that long, having them all back together, it's going to be exciting watching them play on the 26th."

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