HUNTINGTON - A week after the offense had won the day in Marshall first full scrimmage, the defense proudly walked off the field Saturday for the iced-down melon treats in the end zone while the offense stayed on the field, heads hung low, huddled up around the offensive staff after Coach Doc Holliday was done with the team as a whole.
After last week’s scrimmage, the offense was bouncing around with over 600 yards of offense and four long passing touchdowns, while the defense was rolling 100 yards for each of those scores, 400 yards of rolling on the hot FieldTurf that sent a message.
But this day, the defense held to offense to 479 yards and the only touchdowns scored — and all on the ground, none longer than 14 yards — was once the offense was given short yardage situations on the defense’s side of the 50-yard line.
So while the defense chilled out in the cold water tubs and enjoyed the fruits of the day, the offense stayed in the middle of the field for 15 or 20 minutes of soul-searching, led by co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Bill Legg, who was not happy with the results of the scrimmage or the tempo of the workout.
As Legg challenged the offense, nearly daring them to come out flat on Monday, the defense had an idea of why the tempo was a little different from the first scrimmages, and it had to do with the presence of Conference USA officials.
“Last week, we had a manager in a striped shirt spotting the ball and, as soon as the play was over, the offensive coaches were shouting at them to spot the ball so the offense could line up and go,” said senior safety Dominick LeGrande, who led all defenders with six tackles on the day.
“They were lining up and snapping the ball while we were waiting to get the calls in from the sidelines.
“This week, the officials work the ball back to the line, check to make sure subs are getting in and out and we played at a pace more like a real game this week. It made a difference in getting set on defense.”
So the transfer from Boston College is already one up on Herd fans, who are rarely happy with C-USA officials.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday was happy with the scrimmage, as happy as the head man can be when there are turnovers — or when there are no turnovers, and there were two today by the offense — as the guy who is looking at both the offense and the defense on film.
“Today has been like the whole camp, where one day the offense comes out, then the next day the defense comes out and they played well. Guys ran around and made plays,” said Holliday.
“They tackled pretty well and made some plays.”
Holliday explained he wasn’t concerned about a lack of scoring on this day.
“We went eight plays, we planned on running eight plays (per unit) so you can’t read a lot into the lack of touchdowns until late in the scrimmage.
“We scored about eight (actually five) times in two series late down there, that didn’t concern me today,” said Holliday of the scores by the offense in short yardage.
Holliday was also interested to see how his team responded in its first work with the actual officials on the field.
“What we did was go out with Conference USA officials for the first time and it was pretty clean.
“We have a few things we have to make adjustments on, but we did well on the two-minute drill, and both of the kickers went in there and hit game winners, so that was good.
“Some turnovers were good for the defense; unfortunately I go home and I’m not happy either way (if the offense turns it over to the defense, or visa versa).
“I thought the defense played well. In the end, our guys (on offense) have to understand we can control tempo.”
Besides the tempo being different for the workout compared to last week, there was also a very rare sighting — a quarterback who is expected to be the No. 2 QB in the Herd depth chart, came out in a white offensive jersey and went live.
Blake Frohnapfel, the redshirt freshman quarterback who was injured last fall, had surgery in the winter and came along very slowly in the spring, went live in the drills with the two offense going against the two defense, and he did very well.
Holliday explained why he would go with his number two quarterback being live in a scrimmage just eight months after surgery on his shoulder.
“You don’t ever want to put that kid into the game without being hit, and he hasn’t been since he got here,” Holliday said of Frohnapfel.
“It was important to take that redshirt off of him, let him take some shots and he did some good things. He’s athletic … he’s a guy who is different from Cato, but he also brings something else to the table, especially if we get to a situation where he is going to play, which could happen, so we will have our offense conducive to what he can do.”
When Chuck Landon of The Herald-Dispatch pointed out he averaged over ten yards a carry, Holliday smiled and said, “We’ll put him to tailback.”
“He is a great kid, a tough kid and has all the intangibles and he is going to play for us, I have no reservations at all putting him in there.
His arm is getting stronger, he is making all the throws. I have all the confidence in him.”
For his part, Frohnapfel was ready and willing to go live, but perhaps unprepared for the reception he received.
“They finally gave me a chance to run. When I came out for today’s practice with a white jerseys, it was mayhem. They were all, ‘Get Froh,’ people making bets on who would get me, trying to scare me, but it was fun,” said the freshman redshirt from Stafford, Va. and Colonial Forge High School.
“There was one of the kids — I’m not going to say who — that was running his mouth a little bit, saying, ‘You know, if I see you, I’m running you over.’ It’s the first time since our regional championship in high school that I have taken a hit, running the ball.”
Frohnapfel ended the day as the second-leading rusher, with 48 yards on five carries, and scoring a 10-yard touchdown in goal line work with the second offense. He hit 12-of-19 passing, for 116 yards and did not throw an interception.
Ray Taliaferro led all rushers with 53 yards rushing on eight carries, also scoring a touchdown, while senior Martin Ward racked up two touchdowns on eight carries for 29 yards. Freshman Kevin Grooms had the other touchdown and 29 rush yard, while fellow frosh Steward Butler rushed for 28 yards and caught two passes for 24 more.
Passing wise, the Herd still threw for 315 yards, but true freshman Gunnar Holcombe gave up an interception linebacker Cortez Carter returned for an 86-yard touchdown and Rakeem Cato was also intercepted, and the sophomore was none too happy with his, or the offenses, performance.
“Today we had a bad practice, but the defense came out and worked hard, and ran hard, and they got the ‘W’ today. Whenever the defense is beating the offense, I know they are doing a good job, that they will get off the field on third down and give the ball back to our offense,” said Cato.
Why was the pace, the intensity not there for the offense in today’s practice?
Cato could not come up with that answer.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Cato said with a shrug.
“We came out flat. I tried to talk to the offense in the first two drives to get them going, but we were flat, I threw an interception so we had problems all the way around the offensive performance. We have to come back strong on Monday.
“Not having any time off is not an excuse for this team, that’s football. If anyone says that was the reason, they are in the wrong sport, they need to go play tennis or some other individual sport. I’m not buying it.” Cato hit 16-of-24 passes for 167 yards and the interception. Holcombe was 5-of-6, but was hit by Armonze Daniels, causing the ball to float in the air and Cortez Carter picked it for the long 86-yard pick six.
Holliday, for his part, thought the lack of time off might have began to be a factor today.
“For the most part, we have 14-15 practices without a day off, so I think for the most part it has been like a spring practice — every day — and for the most part they have handled it, worked hard, and we have two weeks to work on it.
”Some of the younger guys stepped in and made plays today, and that was good to see.
“Going into today, I thought there were some young guys who would have to play well to get on the bus (to WVU), so we will go back, look at the tape and make some of those decisions, and go from there.”
One of those young players who will no doubt catch some eyes is freshman receiver Craig Wilkins, who had eight catches for 89 yards, including a spectacular one-handed catch in the workout.
“I was just trying to take what I see in the film room and take it to the field, everything (senior) Antavious Wilson tells me about, to do that,” said the reserved Wilkins.
On the great catch - well, catching the ball is the thing to do.
“I just tried to keep my eye on the ball and bring it in … but a catch is a catch. I’m trying to keep the same tempo every day.
“I’m a quiet guy. I try to let my work do my talking.”
Eight for 89 will do some talking as well.
Holliday was happy with the kicking game on the day, one of the better days for both kicking and punting.
“Both have been pretty consistent. We kicked off today, and I think they were mostly near the end zone, with good hang time, and it has all changed — the huddle has changed, the approach has changed, so I wanted to get those guys out there and they lined up and did it well today.”
Justin Haig, the sophomore who kicked off last year, was 3-of-4 on the day, while redshirt frosh Trent Martin was 4-of-5 kicking for placements.
On kickoffs, they combined to put four kicks to the three, the two, the one and into the end zone on the first kickoffs of camp.
“Haig is a tough kid, he doesn’t flinch, but they have all done a good job so far,” said Holliday, who said it doesn’t matter to the players who is starting or kicking off.
They are concerned about the team. We may have one of them kick off and one of them may kick field goals and extra-points.”
Punting was more consistent, with true freshman Tyler Williams averaging about 51 yards per punt, and redshirt frosh Austin Dumas averaging about 41 per punt.
Williams had a bomb of 65 yards, but neither punter could down the ball inside the 20-yard line, as both kicked balls from the 48 into the end zone.
While Cato might have been unhappy with his and the offenses work today, he is very happy about how that side of the ball is coming around with two weeks to the opener at No. 11 (Coaches poll) West Virginia on Sept. 1 at Noon on F/X Network.
“The offensive line is doing a great job, both with the running game blocking and the passing game blocking. Our backs are doing a hell of a job, with Grooms and Stew learning more every day, they are taking care of the ball more and getting better every day,” said Cato.
“I’m very excited about getting to game planning for the first game — I’ve been asking the coaches all week when we can start, and they said some time this week.
“Then, it’s win or go home, it’s football season, not football camp.
“I can’t wait for the game to get here.”
No doubt, MU fans agree with the sophomore quarterback of the Thundering Herd.