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Herd still hampered by lack of experience

WOULD IT be a stretch to blame Marshall's 27-24 loss to Ohio on the previous coaching administration?

Probably, but one thing keeps gnawing at me.

As I outlined Thursday night/Friday morning, Ohio had more fifth-year seniors - yes, all who had redshirted a year - on its two-deep than Marshall had seniors of any variety on its roster. With room to spare - the count was about 15-9.

And I didn't tally the fourth-year seniors and fourth-year juniors on the Bobcats' two-deep - two and about 17, respectively. Unless I am out of my mind (don't rule that out), I haven't seen a Thundering Herd opponent with that much experience in some time.

How does it happen? How does it seem I am writing about a young Marshall team, or youthfulness on one side of the ball, year after year after year?

On this one, let's go to the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes, the last two under Mark Snyder. The '08 class produced wide receiver Antavious Wilson and Devin Arrington; the '09 notables included Aaron Dobson and Andre Snipes-Booker - the two players pressed into service early in that knee-jerk redshirt torching at Virginia Tech.

I'll review the '08 class at length after the season, as I traditionally do. But the first thing to know is this: It was a smaller class to begin with, a few short of the maximum 25. Expect the same thing with the class of '13, since MU's senior class is so small.

Seven players of that class were junior-college signees, and there were more than a few washouts and bad-luck injury cases such as Jamie Hatten. Then there was John Youboty, medically sidelined at Marshall but now playing his senior season at Temple.

The number of players remaining from the signing class of 2009 is down to 10, with one not on the two-deep. Snyder went after jucos, including two quarterbacks who did little but chew up reps. A third QB, A.J. Graham, is gone, along with highly touted linebackers Quan Fletcher (West Alabama) and Phil Walker (Indiana State).

That's why Marshall is so bottom-heavy on the experience scale. Add in this: Current coach Doc Holliday's hurriedly assembled '10 class already has melted in half.

The talent in Holliday's last two classes should excite Herd fans and yes, it should be better than what ex-Nebraska coach Frank Solich can lure to Athens. But when Solich brought his two eighth-year coordinators and a horde of well-evaluated, well-developed Bobcats to town Saturday, they were favored.

As they should have been. But the question: Did all that experience swing the result?

You could argue against it, based on the play I consider Ohio's game-winner. I speak of sophomore Larenzo Fisher stripping the ball away from fifth-year senior Wilson, and sophomore Nathan Carpenter plucking it out of mid-air and racing 48 yards to the Marshall 31. With Matt Weller on their side, the Bobcats had a near-automatic three points.

So with a junior- and senior-laden roster, how do two youngsters turn the game so drastically? They've been led and led well by their elder teammates, that's how.

After Weller's field goal, the Bobcats' defense never flinched when Herd QB Rakeem Cato shredded them in the two-minute drive. They needed just one play to put the game away and got it from linebacker Jelani Moseley - an interception by the fourth-year senior.

Call it a victory over adversity. And now Marshall faces some real adversity - the Herd must defeat Rice, Purdue or Tulsa to avoid its second 1-5 start in three years.

If Holliday successfully follows Solich's example, he'll someday have a busload of juniors and seniors, veterans who laugh in the face of adversity and show their protégés how to do the same.

For now, this young Herd team must grow up, and do it posthaste.

  • nn
  • Other ponderings from the Herd's setback:

  • Yes, there was an all-points bulletin on the whereabouts of one Kevin Grooms. His fellow fleet-footed freshman, Steward Butler, entered for a 2-yard gain, and Remi Watson had two carries for 10 yards, but Grooms watched all of the Herd's 87 scrimmage plays.
  • I'm not sure Grooms would have done much better than his fellow tailbacks, who gained 27 yards on 16 carries. Cato was the most effective runner by far, netting 32 yards despite two sacks.

    In using tailbacks, there are other considerations.

    "He needs to get in more. We need to get Grooms in, we need to get Butler in the game," Holliday said. "It wasn't a coach's decision; I think it was just the flow of the game. We got toward the end there, there was a lot of pass [protection] and some things that had to take place. I think JuJuan [Seider, running backs coach] went with the two older kids that he felt more comfortable with, as far as pass pro goes."

  • I am putting out an APB for Marshall's return game.
  • Snipes-Booker and Butler are doing as well as can be expected in today's snooze-inducing kickoff game, averaging 21-plus yards between them. Snipes-Booker has the team long of 28, though.

    He has a 6.4-yard average on seven punt returns - a long of 19 and not much else. The Herd is going to need to do better in the coming weeks.

    By the way, Ohio suffered a brain cramp in attempting a "pooch" kick. When you kick off from the 35 and have the school's best placekicker, pooches should only refer to dogs.

    And if you must pooch, don't kick it to Alex Bazzie. His 14-yard return not only gave Marshall its best post-kickoff field position of the game, the 39-yard line, but it might have struck fear in a Bobcat or two. Bazzie has vaulted up the depth chart at defensive end by (a) getting ripped in the weight room and (b) playing angry.

  • I've got good news and bad news for the Herd, which turns its attention to a trip to Rice.
  • The good: The Owls are not known for their defense, and the first three games have done nothing to prove otherwise. After yielding 609 total yards Saturday, they are averaging 531.3, 117th of 120 teams. (Interestingly, cross-town rival Houston is 118th.)

    The bad news: There is that Texas thing. I'll go light on it this week, but the Herd has played eight games in the Lone Star State, and have either imploded late or generally stunk it up every time.

    Let's put it this way: Out of 480 minutes, Marshall has led just 34 minutes, 56 seconds - and not since the first half of the 2007 Houston game.

    Yep, Herd players and coaches should just look ahead.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com.


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