HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s offense did not have a 100-yard back in Saturday’s season-opening win over Eastern Kentucky, nor did the team have a receiver eclipse the 70-yard mark.
Yet what Marshall did have was an eye-opening 627-yard performance in which nearly all skill players contributed during the 59-0 win over the Colonels at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
In all, Marshall used four running backs in the contest while 13 different receivers caught at least one pass. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said the one thing he was happiest about was the consistency between groups when substituting freely in the second half.
As the Thundering Herd coaching staff started working different players into the game, the momentum continued on both sides of the football.
“Normally, when you substitute to that extent that we did ... it gets a little sloppy,” Holliday said. “That didn’t happen. I saw guys from (backup quarterback Luke) Zban going in there and making plays to that second offensive line going in and executing, (running back) Knowledge McDaniel, the receivers and that type of thing. It was the same thing defensively.”
All preseason, Holliday preached that he had to get his players live repetitions because there was a likelihood they would all be needed in the 2020 season. As it turned out, Marshall’s first game offered the opportunity for Holliday and his staff to work in several of those players with the team playing nearly its entire dressed roster.
“I think we played 66 players and we traveled 70 — had 70 dress,” Holliday said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening.”
While nearly all players got a chance to take the field, the offensive performance was especially impressive, considering the team had a quarterback under center who had never taken in-game collegiate reps. Redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells orchestrated the offense well, though, spreading the ball around in the passing game early, which forced the Colonels to adjust defensively.
The end result was the Colonels having to back off to respect the pass more, which opened up the running game in the second quarter and beyond. In all, it added up to 627 yards — 282 rushing and 345 passing with a combined eight touchdowns and nine scoring drives.
Wells, who threw for 280 of his 307 yards before halftime, said that spreading the ball around early as the Herd did makes it impossible for a defense to focus in on one aspect.
“It doesn’t matter who is out there,” Wells said. “I’m going to make my reads and all the receivers are going to make plays. That’s so hard for a defense to scheme against because one receiver is not targeted more than another.”
The offense went into its second and third units successfully and McDaniel was actually the game’s leading rusher with 93 yards.
Perhaps one of the wildest statistics comes at the tight end position. Among the 13 receivers who caught a pass on Saturday, five were tight ends, with three — Xavier Gaines, Garet Morrell and Amir Richardson — catching touchdown passes.
“To be able to get those guys in the game — down the road, we’re probably going to need that,” Holliday said.
With the team off this week, Holliday said the likelihood is that, starting with Wednesday’s practice, the staff would get those who weren’t in the game extended live practice repetitions — guys such as true freshman quarterback Eli Sammons — so they can get acclimated also before game preparation for the Sept. 19 contest against Appalachian State.
While Holliday feels good about where his team sits, he also knows the jump in competition. It is likely that Appalachian State will be ranked in the top 25 when the Associated Press poll comes out on Sunday.
“We can build on those things and we’re excited where we are at this point, but again, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Holliday said. “We’ve got an excellent team, of course as you know, in Appalachian State coming in here in a couple of weeks.”