Offense rules in Marshall scrimmage
HUNTINGTON - Whether or not Marshall's defense played "vanilla" in the second spring scrimmage Friday was not the issue. The truth is that defense was often defenseless.
With Martin Ward running with his usual determination and Rakeem Cato and Blake Frohnapfel clicking in the passing game, the Thundering Herd offense amassed 699 total yards on 101 scrimmage plays, with 10 touchdowns.
Nobody saw that coming, it seemed.
"I thought the offense did some things today that I haven't seen since I've been around here, as far as running and throwing around the ball a little bit," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "Defensively, we've got to get better. We've got a lot of young kids that, unfortunately, did not step up and play to the best of their ability."
Even with Tron Martinez and Travon Van watching, the Herd ran for 256 yards on 46 carries. The majority came from Ward, forever trying to elbow his way back into the rotation. He gained 155 yards and 15 carries with two touchdowns, one from 39 yards.
All told, he had seven rushes for double-digit yardage.
"You've got to give Martin Ward credit," Holliday said. "He's been around a long time, he's come out this spring and played hard, competed hard. He's a better player now, because of it."
The passing game executed as it hasn't all spring, even with top receiver Aaron Dobson held out (he was dressed and healthy) and Antavious Wilson making a cameo appearance. Cato went 17-of-27 for 244 yards and four touchdowns, while Frohnapfel was 20-of-28 for 199 yards and three scores.
Frohnapfel, on the mend from shoulder surgery, is indeed rebuilding his range. His 42-yard strike to Andre Booker, which set up a Kevin Rodriguez 4-yard touchdown run early in the proceedings, made defensive backs take notice.
"I was shocked by that one," said cornerback Keith Baxter. "He had shoulder surgery, so that kind of shocked me for him to throw it deep."
"For a guy who throws about once a week, he came out and made some good throws," Holliday said of Frohnapfel. "You could tell his timing was off a little bit; he just hasn't had the opportunity to throw the ball a lot this spring. But it's getting better. About two to three weeks down the road, he'll be fine."
Rodriguez's run opened the scoring and finished the second unit's 12-play, 70-yard drive. Frohnapfel then threw short TD passes to Shuler and Craig Wilkins.
Cato, after throwing his lone interception to safety Zach Dunston, found Eric Frohnapfel alone down the right sideline for 37 yards. After Blake Frohnapfel hit Jermaine Kelson from 6 yards, Cato hit Shuler on a bomb that would have been a 61-yard score if not whistled dead early.
Shuler scored three other times and caught 13 passes for 169 yards. Perhaps the most impressive was a 12-yard slant in a "red zone" situation, a pass Cato slipped inches over a linebacker, a perfect throw.
Shuler caught passes from both throwers, but that chemistry with old friend Cato can't be duplicated.
"When Shuler's out there on the field, I'm not sure what that read is, but it's got a pretty good chance of going to '17,' " Holliday said. "Shuler's one of the most natural kids I've ever seen. He's not extremely fast - he looks like he's short and he's fat and doesn't look like a player.
"[But] he gets out here and it happens for him. He's a good player who's got great instincts, got great ball skills and he finds a way to make a play. You can tell he and Cato have been playing together a long time."
Kelson also caught a short TD pass and Dameon Garrett caught a 48-yard pass when the offense was practicing a third-and-8 at its own 3-yard line.
The defense forced three turnovers, including a fumble that linebacker Cortez Carter forced, recovered and would have returned 70-plus yards for a score. Dunston and defensive end Alex Bazzie picked off passes, with Bazzie heisting a Blake Frohnapfel toss.
Safety Evan McKelvey led all tacklers with 16, but Holliday will have to go to the video to see how many came on too-long gains. At times, the defensive backs were out of the proverbial frame on long gains.
"It was a pretty tough day for us," Baxter said. "A lot of miscommunication and stuff. You're going to have that with young guys back there. We'll get it fixed."
"It was a tough day for all of us if they're running wide open; that can't happen," Holliday said. "Again, we're mixing and matching a little bit over there, and it's spring ball. That's what in spring ball normally happens: The offense will come out and play well one scrimmage, and then the next scrimmage the defense gets upset and they come back and stuff them in the box.
"I have a feeling [coordinator Chris Rippon] and his defensive coaches ... it's not going to be a really fun week to be a defensive player."
Ra'Shawde Myers, who has been quite disruptive in recent practices, was the first-team end opposite Jeremiah Taylor. Ken Smith has remained at first-string tackle beside Brandon Sparrow (remember, Marques Aiken is mending from his hernia surgery).
With Zach Wellman sidelined, offensive coaches trotted out two options at fullback in two-back sets: South Charleston grad DaVonte Edwards (yes, he's an offensive lineman) and T.J. Ross (yes, he's a second-unit linebacker).
Chris Jasperse spent some of the day at right guard, but did take a series at his regular center position. Jasperse, recovering from back surgery, also yielded to Sebastian Johansson on occasion. The usual first-string line, from left: Gage Niemeyer, Josh Lovell, Channing Smith, Japserse and Garrett Scott.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.