Marshall was out-scored 88-32 in the first quarter of last year's 3-9 season, but jumped up on the defense by a 9-0 total when sophomore tailback Darius Marshall took a hand off over right tackle, bounced off the Herd's best tackler last year in senior safety C.J. Spillman and went 49 yards to the end zone to set the early tone on the offensive side of the ball. By halftime, behind touchdowns by red-shirt freshmen like quarterback Mark Cann (one-yard) and running back Terrell Edwards (3-yards) and three Craig Rantananmorn extra-points, the offense led at the half by the score of 32-5. Last season, Marshall only led at the end of the first quarter in the final three games, winning two of those, and only led at the half against West Virginia, East Carolina, Rice and UAB, winning those final three games in the last five weeks of the season.
The question was Marshall's touchdown due to the fact the defense has been in "thud" mode, not actually tackling in practice to prevent injuries, or did Marshall power through last year's MU leader in tackles. "I can say he tried to hit me but I ran through it," said Marshall, who like wise led MU in rushing as a true freshman with 631 yards last year but whose long run in 2007 was only 34-yards. "That's something I was amazed about, a great tackler like C.J. and I broke his tackle. Not many backs get a chance to do that." Marshall and the offense was glad to get after the defense in the scrimmage. "Throughout practice, they have been crushing us. Most of the time we have barely been able to get the ball off, so we looked to liven it up a bit this weekend."
Mark Snyder was happy with the tempo the offense set, then the way the defense responded in what was a 94-play scrimmage. "It was finally playing football," said the head coach, who added, "we didn't hardly show anything of who we are going to be today on either side of the ball. We executed on both sides of the ball. I was pleased." The other thing that pleased Snyder was the lack of penalties, something he worried about on Friday in the first officiated scrimmage. Other than a facemask on John Saunders, two off-sides penalties on the defensive line and an illegal procedure, the scrimmage was relatively clean of yellow flags.
Leading the offense, which did not play tight end Cody Slate or receiver Darius Passmore - two seniors expected to by major weapons for the offense - was the two quarterbacks who suddenly are battling to be the starter after it appeared it was a one-horse race. Cann hit 11-of-16 passes for 68 yards while sophomore Brian Anderson was 14-of-20 for 98 yards, although neither threw a completed pass over 18 yards in distance except an early 27-yard pass to E.J. Wynn. Bryant Milligan led all receivers with five catches for 47 yards.
"We know what Milly can do in practice," said Cann of his sophomore receiver. "He's a great route-runner and caught some good balls today." Cann was happy with the offensive execution today, as well. "It was good. We were first down and driving the ball and go down the field some, hit some short passes and run the ball well. (The offensive line) did a good job today, and they've come a long way."
Anderson, who appeared to fall to No. 3 following spring practice, has not only pushed by Jonathan Garner (who sat out today with an injured hand) but is pushing to start after a great week of practice. "The positives from the coaches have been good, and we've had no one hurt - knock on wood," said Anderson, the only QB in camp with starting experience. He was happy with his performance this week and this fall. "Mark and I are real good friends, and we hang out a lot. When you are out there, you are just trying to do your best. We you are competing, it's all about on the field."
Anderson also has really gotten a handle on the John Shannon offense this fall after a full spring and summer in the system. "Definitely. When a new coordinator comes in, you have to learn the new offense so fast and you miss a lot of things. He's been going over it and going over it (with us) and now I feel more comfortable in the system." Anderson, who was under coach Larry Kueck for two years as a quarterback, occasionally finds himself pulling a "Brett Favre," where the terminology of the old system and new system clash, but much less more so lately.
"All the routes are the same, but everyone of them has a different name so sometimes you find yourself going back to the old stuff some. But once you are doing it every day (and twice a day Monday, Wednesday and Friday of last week and next week), the old stuff kind of leaves your head. I would not call being the older quarterback a disadvantage, but it was something I had to overcome." This past week, and Saturday's performance, says Anderson is well on his way to doing just that.
Marshall had 57 yards on just five first half carries (10.1 yards per carry) and the 49-yard score, while Edwards led all rushers with 61 yards on 14 carries (4.4 ypc) and one touchdown from three yards. Chubb Small only carried two times for four yards. The back that jumped out at everyone was true freshman Martin Ward, from Jonesboro, Georgia. He had 14 carries for 57 yards (4.1) and got a lot of work in the second half. Fellow frosh Jordan Taylor rushed seven times for 24 yards (3.4) and scored on the scrimmage's final play from one-yard out.
Jordan Taylor had seven carries for 24 yards and a score in Saturday's scrimmage photo by Greg Perry, Herd Insider
Ward was taking in the speed, and responsibility, of the college game. "The speed of the game is very different, especially when I got to the second level (defensive secondary)," said the engaging youngster, who rushed for over 3,000 yards at Mount Zion High School and was the nation's No. 17-ranked back. "I really got to get very focused, and with the fans I got a good tempo of game speed." The only turnover of the day came when Ward was stripped by sophomore tackle Delvin Johnson and Mario Harvey recovered. When asked how many times running backs coach Jared Smith will show him the fumble, Ward did not hesitate.
"Plenty of times," laughed the frosh back. "That's one thing my coach will worry about. You can have 100 good things and one bad thing and he will focus on that, so I've got to get better at that." The lack of practice reps may have taken a toll on the young back too, who also caught four passes for 33 more yards in offense. "It's a lot more reps, and your conditioning is not up to par, so you have to work hard and practice twice as hard to the games will be easy to you. Got to work harder in practice."
Marshall has now finished 15 of the 29 practices scheduled before the opener two weeks from today at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium with Illinois State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and FCS sub-division football. While 300 or so was another good crowd for a Saturday morning, the Herd will look for 25,000-30,000 for the opener on August 30 at 4:30 p.m. But next, the team will get back to two-a-days on Monday after taking its first day off on Sunday and will have one more week of all football before the general student population begins moving back in next weekend to start school the week of August 25. The Herd seniors met with their teammates after Snyder was done talking to the team, and those seniors set the curfew tonight for the rest of the Herd.
Upcoming events for the Herd and MU fans:
Wednesday, August 20 - Paint the Capital Green at Charleston's Embassy Suites, 6 p.m.
Saturday, August 23 - QB Club Reverse Raffle, Marshall Memorial Student Center, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, August 26 - First QB Club luncheon, Pullman Plaza Hotel, Huntington, 11:30 a.m.
Thursday, August 28 - First Mark Snyder Call-In Show, Gino's Pub, Fifth Avenue, Huntington, followed by Marshall Pep Rally, Pullman Square Summer Concert Series, 7 p.m./8 p.m.
Friday, August 29 - Marshall Hall of Fame Inductions, 7 p.m., MU Student Center. Jim Donnan (former head football coach), Phil Ratliff (football, and current assistant football coach), Byron Carmichael (soccer), Anna Mitina (tennis), Bill Harris (football, wrestling and baseball), J.R. VanHoose (basketball) and Tom Kies (golf) to be inducted. Tickets $30 at MU Ticket Office in Henderson Center, 1-800 THE HERD or www.HerdZone.com on the web.
Saturday, August 30 - MU HOF luncheon, Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe', 11 a.m.; M-Club Tailgate, 1:30 p.m., West Lot; 2:30 p.m. Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network Tailgate Show and MU Football "Thunderwalk" to locker room, West Lot; 4:30 p.m. Kickoff 2008 with Marshall hosting Illinois State.