HUNTINGTON — In Marshall’s season-opening win over Miami (Ohio), things looked impressive for the Herd offense as they mixed run with pass and kept the RedHawks off-balance defensively.
Since that time, however, it seems the offense has struggled to attain that same balance.
Over the following three games, Marshall consistently threw for 270 to 280 yards, but the rushing attack struggling to find its ground as the Herd grinded out sloppy wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky, which were squeezed around a loss to N.C. State.
On Friday, the Herd looked like a different team offensively with the rungame taking precedence in a 34-24 loss to Middle Tennessee.
The end statistics don’t appear lopsided, on paper. Marshall had 209 yards rushing and 173 passing. In itself, it looks okay.
That isn’t the case, though. A deeper look is needed to see where the lack of balance hurt the Herd on Friday.
Through three quarters, Marshall had run the ball a total of 43 times while quarterback Alex Thomson, playing for injured starter Isaiah Green, had attempted just 17 passes.
That’s a 71 percent run ratio on plays for a team who had completely gone away from the run at times in its first four games.
In itself, it is enigmatic, but here are a few reasons why that may have occurred in the loss to Middle Tennessee.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE’S RUN DEFENSE: The Blue Raiders were allowing over 200 yards per game on the ground coming into Huntington.
NEW QUARTERBACK: It was Thomson’s first start in 13 months and first-ever in the system of Tim Cramsey.
RUN-PASS OPTIONS: Some of Marshall’s offense includes RPOs, which gives the quarterback the leeway to make the call at the line of scrimmage. It simply could’ve been a case of the difference between what Green sees on the field as opposed to what Thomson sees when he’s out there.
What Marshall ran into was a third-quarter buzzsaw in which Middle Tennessee turned a seven-point deficit into a lead going into the final quarter.
By the time that Marshall trailed, Thomson hadn’t really established a rhythm in the passing game, which dug the Herd a hole it couldn’t get out of.
Middle Tennessee geared up its blitz package and sent even more defenders off the back-end, challenging Marshall to pass the football with Thomson at the helm.
From there, it snowballed.
Friday’s loss is only one part of a bigger viewpoint, though.
Marshall thought it could dominate in the run game and went heavy in that direction, which doesn’t leave the offense balanced.
In its previous games, the Herd offense had also seen a significant lean in one direction or the other.
The first three quarters are generally the best indicator for offensive balance because the fourth quarter can often skew statistics-much like what it did on Friday. A team is either in the lead and trying to salt a game away with the run or they are behind, so they throw the ball with more frequency in an effort to get back into it.
Against Western Kentucky, Marshall’s pass ratio had been above 60 percent through three quarters and the score was tied at 10. Notably, Marshall incorporated the run more in the fourth quarter and were able to get the road win.
In its previous game against N.C. State, Marshall threw the ball 43 times
in 65 plays, which is nearly a 2-to-l ratio. Also of note, the Herd fell behind in the second quarter and had to throw to get back into it, especially with the running game not working well against the Wolfpack’s front.
One game that really sticks out, however, is the win over Eastern Kentucky in which Marshall passed the ball on 61 percent of plays through three quarters and ended up throwing on 39 of 67 plays with several of the final plays being runs when the Herd was running out the final four-plus minutes of action.
The only game that Marshall has really balanced out its offense was the win over Miami (Ohio) to open the season. Marshall gained 443 yards of total offense in 75 plays with 38 runs and 37 passes.
It isn’t surprising that the win over the RedHawks has been Marshall’s best offensive game of the year, either.
As Marshall heads on the road this week against Old Dominion, the Herd cannot afford to become a one-dimensional attack.
Once a team becomes one-dimensional, they are easier to defend, which Doc Holliday has pointed out in each of his last two weekly press conferences. Statistics back that with Marshall committing 14 turnovers in its last four games.
To this point, the Herd is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in Conference USA, meaning that it cannot afford anymore conference losses to keep its goals of an East Division title in tact.
The defense has led Marshall to that mark, consistently coming up with plays that have aided the offense as it looks to find itself.
The goal of any offense is to be the aggressor and make a defense adjust to what the offense is doing. So far, Marshall’s one-dimensional nature has allowed the defense to dictate play.
With an extra day of prep before heading to Norfolk, Va., for a matchup with Old Dominion, there’s no doubt the Herd offense will key in on finding ways to move the ball by both ground and air.
As the second half of the season approaches and the Herd gets firmly entrenched into conference play, that will be the difference between being a contender and a middle-of-the-road team in conference.
Source: The Associated Press