Marshall notebook: Herd shows it can move on the ground
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall had some trouble rushing the ball Saturday in its 34-10 win over Texas-San Antonio, but ground out the yards when it needed to slam the door once and for all.
UTSA had scored its lone touchdown to cut the Thundering Herd's lead to 27-10 with 9:44 left and tried to get the ball back. The Roadrunners had sacked Rakeem Cato five times and held the Herd to roughly 80 yards on 37 carries to that point. UTSA has some beef on its front, and that yardage didn't come easily.
"We knew going in they had some 300-pounders up front that not a whole lot of people have blocked," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "At times we blocked them pretty well and a times we didn't."
But the Herd proceeded to grind up the Roadrunners, driving 74 yards on 11 plays and chewing up 5 minutes, 58 seconds in the process. An ill-advised penalty for a late hit helped the Herd, as did a Cato 12-yard run on an early third-and-8. That was critical, as that conversion avoided a three-and-out.
Kevin Grooms gained 11 yards on his run that ended in that late hit, and later rushed 8 yards to give the Herd first-and-goal at the UTSA 8. Three plays later, Cato threw the first pass of the drive, a 4-yard touchdown to Demetrius Evans.
Statistically, that drive gave Marshall a slight lead in time of possession, a stat the Herd usually doesn't win. In the stat the Herd almost always leads in, it ran 81 official plays to UTSA's 63.
And the drive showed that, yes, Marshall can ease up on the play-calling throttle when needed.
Offensive lineman Jordan Jeffries was the most notable among Marshall's scratches, missing his second straight game. The left tackle has 85 snaps this year, 76 in the first two weeks. Another reserve on the line, Grady Kerr, was in street clothes.
Others on the sidelines were no surprise: defensive end Jeremiah Taylor and cornerback Keith Baxter, among others. They have long-term injuries.
Further down the depth chart, tackle Sandley Jean-Felix watched the game on crutches and a heavy wrap on his right knee. The freshman was ticketed for a redshirt season, but was beginning to get meaningful reps in practice.
Marshall punter Tyler Williams is not off to a great start, compared to his freshman season. He has only three 50-yarders in 17 attempts, and has a 42.2-yard average to show for it.
By comparison, he shot off 13 punts of 50-plus yards in 43 attempts and averaged 45.2 yards last year. His three punts Saturday averaged 36.7 with a long of 46, and only one got the height to which observers were accustomed a year ago.
Then again, none of the three punts were returned, so that will improve the 31.7 net average the Herd entered with.
On the flip side, Devon "Moo Moo" Smith is getting the hang of punt returns again, with runbacks of 29 and 26 yards. On the first such return, he caught the punt at the 3-yard line - considered a cardinal sin - and still ran it past the 30.
The latter attempt may have been more impressive - he eluded two tacklers and suddenly had a big patch of open turf.
"I ducked a lot of defenders," Smith said with a laugh. "That's what they brought me here for, to make people miss. That's my job, make guys miss and get the ball in the end zone."
Kickoff returns have shown improvement, with DeAndre Reaves reeling off a season-long 48-yarder. He also had a 45-yard runback against Ohio.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.