Do you recall Match Game?
You know, the eccentric, cash-prized game show popular back in the 1960s, where a pair of teammates would alternate in distributing hints to one another in an attempt to fill in the blank.
I figured since Friday festivities allude to yet another spirited weekend of college football, we’d dabble in our own Conference USA version.
Southern Mississippi, Florida International, Texas-El Paso, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte.
If you guessed “teams that have collected more total yards per contest than the Marshall Thundering Herd in 2015” then let’s rock out to some cliché, instrumental music and receive our grand prize.
And quite frankly I’m positive that if you informed Marshall fans of the Conference USA teams that have surpassed the Thundering Herd in offensive efficiency this deep into the season, they’d be overtaken by an overkill of laughing gas.
Clocking in at 102nd respectively, the reigning conference champs have managed just 358 yards per game which stands as a major blow to 2014 statistics. Luckily, the defense and special teams have rallied and picked up the slack, but the aura in Huntington appears uniquely erratic.
Although they replaced massive contributors from 2014, the Herd’s batch of returnees appeared primed to build off a gratifying season. The passing game, however, has been non-existent.
I contacted Grant Traylor, the Marshall beat writer for The Herald-Dispatch to gain a sense of what the Achilles’ heel has been for the Herd.
“The outside receivers need to do a better job at winning one-on-one battles when the opportunity presents itself,” Traylor told TodaysU. “It will help take the pressure off of (Chase) Litton and the Marshall rushing attack.”
What served as a sturdy foundation a season in 2014, the wide receiver’s statistics are lightyears away from what was produced in the conference title campaign. And it doesn’t aid the offense when injury problems occur to significant channels of the scheme.
Beginning the season under center, quarterback Michael Birdsong suffered a shoulder setback in Week 2, forcing 6”6’ freshman Chase Litton to grab the reins. He struggled versus Kent State last week, in which the Thundering Herd needed overtime to edge the Golden Flash on the road.
And then there’s the blow to running back Devon Johnson who endured a back injury in the early portion of last weekend. While he’s listed as questionable for Saturday, a few casualties to the offensive line also hinder productivity.
“Injuries to right tackle Clint Van Horn (and Johnson) have put young faces in positions where the Herd had a senior leader, which has also played a part in the slow start,” noted Traylor.
With Van Horn expected to return on Saturday versus Old Dominion, a new, intangible factor stands in the way: the weather.
With a handful of matchups already scheduled to move up in the day in hopes of breezing by Hurricane Joaquin, heavy wind and possible rainfall just serve as another obstacle for Marshall’s offense to push forward.
As bad it as it was in 2014, Old Dominion’s defense still has yet to allow a receiver to eclipse the century mark. A freshman quarterback still trying to grasp onto the offense should assist in keeping that trend going for a Monarchs defense surrendering just 183 yards in the air.
For those waiting for an outbreak in Huntington, it may be delayed once more on Saturday afternoon. Time is slowly dwindling for Doc Holliday’s Thundering Herd.