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Chuck Landon: MU needs to find running game

September 24, 2018

Marshall was out of its league and out of its class.

And it really showed.

The chasm between Group of Five schools such as Marshall and Power Five schools such as N.C. State is widening with each passing season.

That was glaringly obvious during the Wolfpack’s 37-20 win over Marshall Saturday night in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

From the very beginning, N.C. State dominated the game. On the first play of the game, star quarterback Ryan Finley fired a 26-yard pass to Thayer Thomas.

It was a glimpse into the immediate future.

In the first half alone, Finley tossed passes for gains of 26, 19, 46, 23, 19, 22, 38, 19 and 27 yards.

The 46-yarder was to Kelvin Harmon and set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Reggie Gallaspy just five seconds into the second quarter. That increased N.C. State’s lead to 10-0.

Marshall?

The Thundering Herd was overwhelmed.

The only good moment in the first half for Marshall was Isaiah Green’s 82-yard bomb to Marcel Williams for a touchdown with 14:04 remaining in the second quarter.

That was the good news.

The bad news was Marshall gained only 80 yards on its other 30 first-half plays for a mere 2.7 yards per play.

That’s just one of several compelling statistics. For most of the first half, Marshall’s rushing attack was so nonexistent the Herd’s ground game didn’t break double-figures until late in the second quarter. At halftime, Marshall had only 16 yards on 12 rushes for a meager 1.3 yards per attempt.

It got to the point where Marshall’s offensive coordinator, Tim Cramsey, seemed to give up on running the football. Instead, Green threw 19 passes and completed nine for 146 yards.

Marshall’s lack of a running attack is becoming an increasingly disturbing problem.

The Herd didn’t start the season that way, rushing for 171 yards on 38 attempts in 35-28 win at Miami (Ohio). But then Marshall’s ground game sputtered badly during a tougher-than-expected 32-16 win over FCS member Eastern Kentucky. The Herd managed only 89 yards on 28 attempts for a measly average of 3.2 yards.

But as it turns out, the 89 yards against Eastern Kentucky was a windfall compared to Marshall’s anemic running attack against N.C. State. The Herd managed a paltry 54 yards on 22 rushes for a 2.5 yards per carry average.

The leading rusher for the Herd — that term is being used extremely loosely — was Tyler King with 30 yards on nine carries (3.3 yards per attempt). Keoin Davis had 17 yards on seven carries.

Marshall simply can’t defeat very many opponents without some semblance of a running game. That creates far too much pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Green.

And, yes, it showed Saturday night against N.C. State.

With 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Green tried to pick up a first down with a keeper on fourth-and-2 and fumbled the ball away to N.C. State.

Then, with 28 seconds left in the third quarter, Green was intercepted by Jarius Morehead who returned the pick 57 yards for a touchdown. And that wasn’t all. Green threw another interception with 8:48 remaining.

These are the sort of problems that are created by the absence of a running attack.

So, what’s the answer?

Right now, there doesn’t appear to be one.

And that’s the scary part.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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