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."