Herd’s ground game got up and rushing in victory at WKU
HUNTINGTON — Tucked away in the mayhem of a football game against Western Kentucky University that Marshall University nearly lost ... then won ... then nearly lost again ... then won again, there was something the Thundering Herd offense had not done since its first contest of the season.
Marshall (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) achieved offensive balance last week on the road and put together a lengthy drive that resulted in an early-fourth-quarter lead in a 20-17 victory. The drive was hardly noted afterward but could prove pivotal as the Herd moves forward.
With the score tied 10-10 early in the fourth quarter, Marshall took possession in its own territory and moved the ball down to the Western Kentucky 4-yard line, largely using the running game to get there. The drive ended with a 21-yard field goal from Justin Rohrwasser.
“All together, we did run the ball a little better,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “When you can mix it up and they have to respect the run, there is no question that it will help you throw the ball a little better.”
One of the most important plays of that fourth quarter was on a fourth-and-2. Western Kentucky knew the Herd was running the football out of its full-house look, and still the Herd’s offensive line got a push and running back Anthony Anderson made the yardage to continue the drive.
The confidence from that run showed immediate results when Tyler King took the next snap and burst over the left side of the line for a 20-yard gain that represented Marshall’s longest rush this season.
Out of 26 fourth-quarter plays, Marshall ran the ball 11 times and threw it 15 times with balance achieved until the Herd found itself in a passing situation trailing by four with 98 yards to go for the game-winning score and less than five minutes left.
Even that final 98-yard drive was kicked off by an important run — a 5-yard jaunt by King, who took a handoff out of the end zone and raced to the outside to get the Herd out of the shadow of its own goalpost.
It also helped Marshall into a manageable third-down situation. With the running back as a receiving threat out of the backfield, the field cleared out for wide receiver Obi Obialo, who beat his man off the line and took a pass from Isaiah Green for a 20-yard gain and a first down.
Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady, who later caught the winning 32-yard touchdown pass, said the balance of last week’s fourth quarter looms large for the offense moving forward at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Middle Tennessee (2-2, 1-0) in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“We started to get the run game going, and the run game opens up the pass game,” Brady said. “Then, when the ball got in our playmakers’ hands, they got extra yardage.”
Establishing the run is crucial this week against a blitz-heavy Middle Tennessee defense.
Last season, the Herd was able to identify the blitz concepts and the offensive line blocked well in a 198-yard rushing performance in a 38-10 road win over the Blue Raiders that featured a pair of touchdown runs each from King and Keion Davis. King had several highlight-reel runs, including a 15-yard touchdown that opened the scoring and a 22-yard run when he hurdled a defender.
Holliday said that while King can show his athleticism, he is also a physical runner, which is something the Herd will need on Friday.
“He is 190 pounds or so and is a physical runner,” Holliday said. “We are going to need that. We are going to need Keion, Anthony (Anderson) and all of those guys to step up and play.”
The running game becomes even more important if Green, who was injured on the touchdown pass to Brady, misses action, which would likely have graduate transfer Alex Thomson getting his first action in a Marshall uniform.
Regardless who is at quarterback, the passing attack becomes more dangerous when the rushing game forces the respect of the defense, as Holliday alluded to.
“We just have to continue taking what the defense gives us, and part of that is running the football when they allow that to happen,” Holliday said. “We were better in the second half (at Western Kentucky) and are going to have to build on that this week.”
Middle Tennessee (2-2, 1-0) at Marshall (3-1, 1-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Joan C. Edwards Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, WMUL 88.1-FM