MU Notebook: Rushing attack critical to Herd's success
In the offseason, Marshall coach Doc Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg completely revamped the offense to speed up the Herd's tempo while also getting into a system that makes quarterback Rakeem Cato comfortable.
But while Cato is near the top of nearly all passing categories nationally, the passing game hasn't been the biggest factor when Marshall has seen success this season.
Wins have come when the Herd has achieved balance by getting sizable contributions in the running game.
In Saturday's 59-24 win over Southern Miss, the Herd rushed for 275 yards on 42 carries -- an average of 6.5 yards per attempt. Kevin Grooms led the charge with a career-high effort of 119 yards on 12 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown run in which he rushed around the left side and sprinted past the Southern Miss secondary for an eye-opening and momentum-swinging touchdown in the second quarter.
Steward Butler later added a long burst of his own, ripping off a 54-yard run for a score and finishing with 71 yards on seven carries.
There's no one who appreciates that more than Cato, who said that teams often sleep on the rushing attack while defending the pass.
"One thing I tell people about those two -- Grooms and Stew -- is you never know when they're going to break one," Cato said. "They've just got so much speed."
Marshall rushed for five touchdowns on the day with four different ball carriers reaching the end zone. Remi Watson added 56 on 10 carries and a score while Essray Taliaferro also scored.
After the game, Grooms and Butler were all smiles as they spoke about sharing the wealth.
"The offense did their thing -- running backs, quarterbacks, receivers -- and look at their score," Grooms said.
"Everybody did their job," Butler said. "We got the job done."
Marshall has 17 rushing touchdowns on the season, which eclipses the total of the last two seasons combined. The Herd had just nine rushing scores in 2011 and seven in 2010.
In the Herd's three wins this season, Marshall has rushed for 794 yards on 140 attempts. Of the Herd's 17 rushing scores, 13 have come in the three wins, including 11 in the two Conference USA victories.
TURNOVERS: While Marshall was able to win the turnover battle on Saturday, a troubling statistic continued to show for the Herd in its turnovers.
Southern Miss got a 19-yard interception return from Kalan Reed for a score, which marked the third consecutive game an opponent's defense has scored against the Herd.
Out of Marshall's 13 turnovers this season, five have been returned for touchdown -- three of Cato's seven interceptions and two fumble returns for scores.
Add in a kickoff return for a score against Tulsa and that's six non-offensive touchdowns for the opposition this season.
SACK ATTACK: After coming into the contest with just four sacks on the season, Marshall got to Southern Miss quarterbacks for three sacks on Saturday.
Brandon Sparrow led the way with a pair of sacks while Alex Bazzie and Ra'Shawde Myers combined for the other sack.
POLL NEWS: Unbeaten Ohio (7-0) is No. 23 in The Associated Press, USA Today and Harris Interactive polls. C-USA West leader Tulsa (7-1) got six points in the AP poll, 21 in USA Today and 39 in the Harris Interactive. West Virginia dropped to No. 22 in the USA Today and Harris Interactive polls and 25th in the AP.
Grant Traylor is a sports writer for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 304-526-2759. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).