Rushing attack pushes Herd forward
HUNTINGTON — For Marshall University football fans, most of the focus in Saturday’s 35-28 win was on the quarterback spot where red-shirt freshman Isaiah Green made a successful first start.
While that received much of the attention, the game’s biggest X-factor came courtesy of the ground attack.
Statistically, the numbers won’t jump out at anyone (38 rushes, 171 yards), but Marshall’s ability to get its ground game going early forced Miami (Ohio) out of its defensive gameplan. The beauty of Saturday’s performance was that no matter who was in the backfield — running backs Keion Davis, Tyler King and Anthony Anderson — for the Thundering Herd, the offense moved forward. Marshall center Levi Brown said it was all about the scouting that occurred before the game with offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey.
“Honestly, it was nothing extraordinary that any of us did, other than Tim Cramsey,” Brown said. “He had studied so much about how their linebackers play. ... Once we kind of got their linebackers playing behind, it opened up big holes for Keion, King and Anthony Anderson to run through. It ended up being a really good run performance by our running backs. It looked good for us and for Cramsey, also.”
The key to the game came in the first 10 minutes as Marshall used its various offensive weapons to get Miami (Ohio) on its heels. With wide receiver Tyre Brady on the outside, the RedHawks tried to jam him at the line and have a safety over top, which meant sacrificing a player in the box closer to the line of scrimmage. Teams do such when they think they can still stop the run with one fewer player at the first two levels of the defense.
Miami (Ohio) was unable to stop the run, however, as the Herd offensive line pushed its way down the field, using both the run and short pass to keep the chains moving.
“We’ve always told ourselves and always known that we hold each other accountable in our running back room,” Anderson said. “All of us have a lot of abilities to show that we can do it.”
Possibly the biggest impact on the first two drives was that when the Herd needed short yardage, it lined up in its ’Full House* formation (three running backs) and was still able to reach its line to gain.
Such was the case when Marshall drove to Miami’s 2-yard line on the first drive and Davis bulled into the end zone to open things up.
On the second drive, Anderson pushed the pile as he gained four yards on a third-and-2 before taking a handoff and getting into the end zone for a 1-yard score.
Anderson carried just three times, but all came in the ‘Full House’ formation and went for a first down and two touchdowns in the game.
“It’s something we’ve worked on since last spring/′ Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “Anthony Anderson is a big back and we wanted to take advantage of his skill set. Tim (Cramsey) has done a nice job of developing some goal-line packages along with (offensive line coach) Greg (Adkins). Greg brought some things with him from places he’s been.”
Brown said there is a fun energy about the team once that ‘Full House’ package comes onto the field, and seeing Anderson get rewarded added to that energy on Saturday.
“Finally getting to see (Anthony) have another break in the end zone and have fun again was something that made me really happy because he’s a guy that deserves the world,” Brown said. “He works harder than anyone I’ve met.”
In the first quarter, Marshall rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries, nearly six yards per attempt, which forced the RedHawks to abandon their gameplan of doubling Brady on the outside. Once Miami moved another player closer to the line of scrimmage in run support, the safeties could not shade over to Brady’s side, which meant one-on-one battles with the secondary. Brady finished the game with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the run that opened up the passing game, which helped the Herd achieve balance.
Another important aspect is that when Marshall was faced with run-specific situations, such as goal-line or third-and-short, the Herd executed. That might not seem like a huge deal, but is something that Marshall struggled with in 2017. When the Herd needed to run the ball to pick up a couple yards, it was not able to do so with consistency, which kept points off the board, a bugaboo when a team loses four conference games by a total of 19 points.
Last year, Marshall finished 95th in the nation, averaging merely 140.2 yards per game while struggling in those short-yardage situations. That’s why that Saturday’s performance on the ground pleased Holliday. It showed that the Herd’s ground game is moving forward.