Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

August 4, 2013

Marshall wants defense to rise to level of offense

HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s offense took many teams by surprise last season, given its overall inexperience. But quarterback Rakeem Cato was able to mesh with senior receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, as well as his former high school teammate, Tommy Shuler.

The run game also improved dramatically, ranking fourth in Conference USA at 169.2 yards per game.

The Thundering Herd took the term “hurry-up offense” to another level, averaging a dizzying 90.6 plays per game. If not for an inept defense that couldn’t stop anyone, the Herd would likely have gone bowling in December.

Therein lies the trick for Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and his staff. As practice in Huntington begins today, there of course will be emphasis on getting things corrected on defense. At the same time, the offense can’t rest on what it accomplished in 2012.

“The one thing they can’t do is take a step back,” Holliday said during a pre-camp press conference last week. “To be a good offense, we had to play at an up-tempo every game last year because when we started to slow things down a bit, we got out of synch.”

“We can’t be satisfied where we are. We’ve got to continue to get better as an offense.”

It’s hard to imagine an offense getting much better than what Marshall was last year.

Led by Cato, the Herd had the nation’s top passing offense, averaging 365.1 yards in the air. They were No. 6 in total offense at 534.3.

It was a breakout season for Cato, who was named the league’s C-USA Most Valuable Player as a sophomore — the first underclassman in league history to be honored as such. He led the nation with 350.1 yards per game, throwing for 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Those numbers have led to big expectations in 2013. The announcement Friday of his inclusion on the Manning Award Watch List brought the list of preseason nominations to five — Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien and College Football Performance are the others.

The passing game was complemented by a running game that was a respectable 54th in the nation — respectable considering how bad it had been. Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson combined for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Holliday wants the offense to keep its foot on the gas this season, but still recognizes the need for a better defense.

“You look around the country, the teams that played extremely fast, there aren’t many of them that played very good defense,” Holliday said.

“And in order to win championships, at the end of the day when you look up, the teams that played great defense are in those championship games, whether it be Conference USA, the national championship or whatever. At some point, you’ve got to stop somebody.”

• • •

Practice starts today with two-a-day sessions at 9:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Each of the first four days will see two split-squad workouts. The Monday-Friday practices are open to the public and will last approximately two hours.

This Saturday’s scrimmage is open only to Big Green members and 2013 season ticket holders. The Aug. 17 scrimmage at 7 p.m. will be open only to Big Green members. However, those wishing to join the Big Green will be able to do so by visiting customer service representatives.

The Herd will host its Fan Day on Sunday, Aug. 11, from 4-6 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. After a team photo is taken, student-athletes will be made available on the field for autographs. Admission is free.

*****

Gary Fauber is assistant sports editor of The Register-Herald.

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