Marshall notebook: Solid ground game opens up Herd passing attack
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Solid running breeds effective play-action passing, and Marshall has gotten a lot of both in its five-game win streak.
When Thundering Herd receivers and linemen realize a defender has been had, they all but laugh.
"Our running backs have done a great job, so [the defense tries] to get an extra body in the box," said Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins. "To get his eyes off me, due to a good play-action, a good fake by [quarterback Rakeem] Cato and a hard run by the running back. About the time he turns his head, it's too late; I'm already behind."
"It's awesome," said center Chris Jasperse. "These past two weeks, the play-action has been unbelievable. That play on the goal line where Gator scored, we had a little play-action there. I didn't even have to go to my linebacker; he came to me, and [Gator] was wide open.
"It's a tribute to our running game."
Rice coach David Bailiff noted that Marshall has one weakness on special teams, the punt unit. That's understandable, as Tyler Williams has had two kicks blocked and once accidentally took a knee while fielding a snap.
Bailiff may have missed Williams' recent efforts in the last two games, a 48.3-yard average over eight punts. Then again, Bailiff could be excused for missing MU's punts, for there have not been that many.
"The only thing Marshall's not really good at is punting, because they've only had to do it 45 times all year," Bailiff said with a laugh. "We've punted about 90 times, and they've punted it 45."
Marshall has indeed punted 45 times, less than four per game. Rice has punted 69 times.
Jasperse and guards Sebastien Johansson and Alex Schooler love a good war with a good defensive tackle. Enter Christian Covington.
The Rice sophomore is coming into his own, with big numbers for a defensive tackle. He is fifth on the team with 48 tackles and leads with 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also has three pass break-ups, three quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and even a blocked kick.
"He's a good player," Jasperse said. "He makes a lot of plays, and he gets after it. But we played against him last year, so we know a little bit of what he has."
On a Rice team with chemical engineering majors, who is the smartest Owl of them all? A very unscientific poll indicates defensive end Tanner Leland, who is toting a 3.56 grade-point average while majoring in mathematic economic analysis.
"There are a bunch of guys on our team who are real bright. I would say Tanner Leland," said quarterback Taylor McHargue. "He came here as a walk-on and earned a scholarship. He's a guy who busts his butt on and off the field."
Receiver Jordan Taylor picks one on each side. For defense, he leans toward Gabe Baker, who served on the search committee for a new Rice athletic director. For offense, he touts freshman tight end Robby Wells.
Defensive end Cody Bauer swings his vote to his opposite end, Leland.
"He's going to be an investment banker," Bauer said. "We're going to give him our money, and we'll be set, too."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.