Inability to sustain drives hurting Thundering Herd

September 25, 2018

Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green, right, hands off to wide receiver Willie Johnson as the Herd takes on N.C. State during an NCAA football game on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.


HUNTINGTON — As Marshall looks back on the non-conference portion of its season, there is going to be one glaring statistic surrounding the offense that sticks out to Marshall head coach Doc Holliday.

So far in 2018, the Herd offense has been feast or famine in its attack.

By nature, the offense is a bit quicker of a tempo than seen in the past, so it is expected that the Herd may not feature long drives.

With tempo offenses and the way that teams can move a football quickly, the definition of a sustained drive has changed over the years.

In the past, a four or five-minute possession was the norm as teams used the full play clock and got set up in their play in a more deliberate sense.

Those days are gone now as offenses look to strike before the defense gets set, so sustained drives are typically defined in the three to four-minute range now.

That’s why the non-conference portion has been a bit of a concern for the Herd.

Yes, the Herd has been able to put up points at times, but sustaining drives has not been a strong point of Marshall’s to this points.

On Saturday, Marshall had just three of its 12 drives eclipse the three-minute mark in length. Oddly enough, Marshall’s second-longest drive of the game was a nine-play, 36-yard drive that essentially ran out the clock on the Herd’s 37-20 loss to N.C. State once the Wolfpack gained a three-score lead.

By comparison, N.C. State had six drives that covered eight plays or more while the Herd had just four drives of that nature. That’s why the Wolfpack owned nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession as well.

After the game, Marshall center Levi Brown said it’s on the Herd offense as a whole to improve in sustaining drives and producing points.

“We need to be a little bit more consistent in what we do,” Brown said. “It’s nothing major. Just a bunch of minor things that add up. A really well-coached defense like (N.C. State) is going to capitalize on opportunities like that.”

In looking at the season, as a whole, Saturday’s output in sustained drives was the continuation of a trend.

Out of 39 drives for Marshall’s offense this season, only nine have eclipsed the three-minute mark. In those nine drives, three have ended in touchdowns, three in field goals, two have seen a half run out and one more ended in a punt.

That means Marshall has just six sustained scoring drives in 39 opportunities on the season, meaning they have relied on quick-strike offense to provide the spark. As much was proven in Saturday’s loss to N.C. State with the Herd’s lone offensive touchdown coming on an 82-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Green to Marcel Williams on the second play of a second-quarter drive.

Green said that he is confident the Herd can correct those problems moving forward.

“We’ll fix it and when it gets going, we’re going to be a high-powered offense and we’re going to be very tough to stop,” Green said.

To their credit, Marshall did a better job in the second half of being able to methodically move the football. The first two offensive possessions of the third quarter resulted in a pair of field goals after sustained drives.

So why is Marshall’s offense inconsistent in sustaining drives?

To this point, it has been due to a lack of a rushing attack.

Marshall now ranks 119th nationally (out of 130 FBS teams) in rushing at only 104.7 yards per game on the ground.

For new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey, the lack of production in the rushing attack has almost forced him to go away from the running game, as well. Marshall also ranks 127th out of 130 teams with 29.3 rushing attempts per game. Only Hawaii, Stanford and Washington State are averaging fewer rushing attempts per game.

Against good competition, Marshall’s one-dimensional nature will hurt the offense, such as was seen on Saturday when N.C. State’s defensive front knew what was coming.

“Any time you become one-dimensional, it’s hard,” Holliday said. “They pin their ears back and come after you.”

Given that Marshall has a quarterback in Green who will make only the fourth start of his career this week against Western Kentucky, it’s hard to ask him to carry that type of load and win games by himself.

As the Herd moves into Conference USA play, it does so with eyes on an East Division title and shot at a conference championship.

If Marshall continues on its current path of being a one-dimensional offense that can’t sustain drives, that vision will become blurred. Teams wont fear the run game and will look to take away Marshall’s passing attack, putting more pressure on Green and, in turn, the Herd defense.

However, if the Herd can find a way to balance out the offense and start sustaining drives, that vision of a conference title becomes a bit more clear.

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