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Marshall’s lack of ground game and explosiveness should seal its fate against NC State

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There’s not a lot to like about the Herd despite their opening-weekend win.

NCAA Football: Marshall at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall won its season-opener against Miami (Ohio), 31-26, and hey, regardless of anything else, getting a win there is a good start for a program that won only two games against FBS teams last season. It’s the anything else that’s the problem.

You thought you felt bad about NC State’s loss last week? Miami would ask that you please hold their beverage for a moment. The RedHawks out-gained Marshall 429-267, had 10 more first downs, and ran 31 more plays than the Herd. Miami allowed, in order: a 99-yard kickoff return TD (first play of game), a 97-yard kickoff return TD (second quarter), a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown (third quarter).

Remove those three touchdowns, which Marshall’s offense obviously had no part of, and the Herd’s performance in the opener looks a lot less encouraging in a long-term sense. Down-to-down, they were out-played pretty thoroughly by a MAC team coming off a 6-7 season, and the offense managed to produce only 10 points.

Winning’s always a good thing, but I dare say a model based on three return touchdowns is not likely sustainable over the course of 12 games.

Aside from an 11-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, there’s not much worth mentioning about Marshall’s performance on the offensive side last weekend. The Herd managed to convert seven of 13 third down attempts but were otherwise pretty unnoticeable.

What bodes especially badly for them this weekend is the fact that they managed only 67 yards rushing on 24 attempts (2.8 ypc). Marshall has a solid passer in junior quarterback Chase Litton, but he’s working with a still-developing receiving corps—the team’s leading receiver in Week 1 was a freshman—and every QB needs at least some support from the ground game to be successful consistently.

The Herd’s ground game stunk in 2016 (108.2 rushing yards per game on 3.3 per carry) and the early indicators of 2017 are bad. NC State should thoroughly own this particular battle.

Litton will probably be steady and efficient—he is in his third season as a starter—but he needs his receivers to help him create more explosive plays, and I’m not sure they’re capable. They weren’t last year. So if you’re Marshall, how likely are you to grind out extended scoring drives with no ground game and a passing game that doesn’t stretch the field? Not real likely.

One thing’s for sure: the Herd had best be really good on third downs again. But in the long run that can only help so much without some chunk plays. They were efficient on third downs against Miami but still managed only 10 points, and they had only seven plays go for 10+ yards from scrimmage in the entire game. There are only four FBS teams that managed fewer plays of 10+ yards last weekend.

I suppose the good news for Marshall is that it does still get to go up against NC State’s special teams.