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Herd struggles with new offense

MU football
Oct. 06, 2010 @ 12:16 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The Spread offense is designed to be a fast-paced attack that keeps a defense off balance and results in quick-strike scoring.

So far this season, there has not been much of a Spread, and Marshall University's football team has been left starving on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Thundering Herd has been hungry for points after scoring just 11 touchdowns thus far while the defense has been hungry for a break after being on the field for 34:15 -- more than one half of football -- more than the opposition.

The biggest issue plaguing both the offensive and, essentially, defensive side of the ball has been a lack of a rushing attack.

Marshall is 104th in the nation in rushing, amassing just 505 yards on the ground in five games.

Head coach Doc Holliday knows for his team to excel, they have to hit the ground running.

"We can't become one-dimensional. We have to be able to run the ball a little bit," Holliday said. "Unfortunately we haven't been able to do that."

The lack of a rushing attack has resulted in the opposition having possession of the football for nearly seven minutes more per game than Marshall on average. On the season, Marshall has gone three downs-and-out on 19 different possessions, leaving the defense to pick up the pieces for extended periods of time.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that late-game defensive collapses occurred in losses to West Virginia and Bowling Green. In those two games combined, Marshall's defense was on the field for 23 minutes more than the offense.

It is appalling that the rushing attack is having such struggles, considering it was the Herd's strength in 2009 when the team finished 7-6.

For the Herd, the offensive line and corps of running backs are very much the same from last season. Instead, the problem in 2010 has been the schematic differences associated with the Spread.

In looking at successful Spread offenses, many are predicated on having a mobile quarterback taking the snaps.

The goal is simply to get the ball to athletes in space and let them make plays.

A mobile quarterback forces the defense to spy the quarterback to avoid a run, thus allowing for one less defender in space against the receivers in the open field. With mobility at the quarterback position, a defense also has to take less chances and react more to what the offense is doing to eliminate potential big plays.

If there is no viable rushing threat behind center, the defense can predicate its game plan on taking away the vertical receivers by sending multiple blitz packages that don't allow time for a look downfield.

With several receivers in formation, a defense often sends more rushing defenders than what the Spread offense has blockers, thus also clogging up rushing lanes when a running play is called.

Southern Miss executed that to perfection Saturday night against the Herd in a 41-16 victory.

Marshall ended with 14 plays of zero or negative yards out of 23 offensive snaps in the first half as the Golden Eagles staked to a 28-0 lead.

The difference in the massive gap at halftime?

A mobile quarterback.

The arms of Marshall's Brian Anderson and Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis were comparable, but the difference was Davis' ability to pose a rushing threat.

Davis' ability to make plays with his feet kept Marshall's defense off balance. He rushed for three first-half scores while throwing for another in the opening half.

While the game was out of reach by halftime, Marshall did get a spark in the second half by replacing Anderson with A.J. Graham at quarterback.

Of Marshall's 180 yards of offense in the contest, Graham accounted for 106 of them while giving the offense a dual-threat quarterback -- something necessary for the Herd scheme to work as it stands now.

Graham's ankle injury could keep him out for the UCF game on Oct. 13, meaning Anderson will line up behind center against a UCF team that could be more athletic than the Southern Miss defense that picked apart Marshall's offensive plans.

Anderson has played well at home, but he has not seen a playmaking defense like UCF since the Ohio State game.

"They are similar to Southern Miss," Holliday said. "They are in Central Florida and they have athletes all around them. George (UCF head coach George O'Leary) has done a great job of recruiting."

Whether a change in philosophy or a change in personnel, the Herd is going to have to find ways to keep UCF off balance.

Simply put, it's going to be hard for the Herd to get moving if the quarterback is sitting still.

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