HARRISONBURG — It’s taken some time, but James Madison University junior running back Marcus Marshall may finally have turned a corner in the Dukes’ offense.
Last week, Marshall had 128 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns in JMU’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal win over Weber State.
“I think it’s been a process, but I think I’m getting better and better,” Marshall said. “Just kind of finding my role in the offense.”
JMU (13-0) hosts South Dakota State University (11-2) in the FCS semifinals at 4:30 p.m., Saturday.
Marshall transferred this season from Georgia Tech, where he was the leading rusher for the Football Bowl Subdivision school the last two seasons. Georgia Tech runs the triple option, which is much different from JMU’s zone-read offense.
“There has been a little bit of a learning curve,” JMU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “I know people think, well you just get the ball and you run with it. There’s just a lot more to it than that.”
Kirkpatrick and JMU head football coach Mike Houston said they each sat down and talked with Marshall last week, and told him he needed to be more assertive and he needed to get more carries.
“I had spoke to him and said you’re almost being too unselfish,” Kirkpatrick said. “We told him you’re almost being too much of a team player. I deal better with guys coming down and saying I want the ball, give me the ball more. I told him that you’re going to get the ball this week, and we got to get you off to a good start. And fortunately that happened in that second series. And I think he just fed off of that a little bit, too. But he’s worked hard all year.”
Kirkpatrick said the biggest adjustment Marshall has had to make is to slow down at the start of the run and wait for his blockers to make a hole. Kirkpatrick said that in the triple option he just took the ball and was able to go straight forward at full speed.
“In the zone offense, it’s a little bit of (going) slow to the line of scrimmage then fast through the line of scrimmage,” Kirkpatrick said. “Guys are exchanging defensive lineman in the zone blocking scheme. So there’s totally different reads to it.”
Kirkpatrick said Marshall has also had to adjust to having a quarterback in the shotgun and having to block at times, compared to the quarterback always being under the center at Georgia Tech. Kirkpatrick said he’s also had to learn different routes as a receiver.
Marshall has 617 yards rushing this season and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns. He also has 10 catches for 65 yards, and has returned 14 kickoffs for 300 yards.
Marshall said the main reason he came to JMU was because he wanted to be in a different offense, and he wanted to win.
“When I came here I really expected to win and to try to become a better football player,” Marshall said. “I’m glad I’ve been able to do that.”
Marshall doesn’t have to look far for advice on how to play the game. His brother, Keith, is a member of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. Keith Marshall, who had a standout career at running back at the University of Georgia, is currently on the injured reserve for the Redskins.
Marcus Marshall’s father, Warren, played at James Madison University and is the school’s all-time leading rusher. Marcus Marshall said he constantly talks with his father and gets advice from him.
“He’s been a big influence on me,” Marcus Marshall said. “He’s been there my entire life, especially as kind of a football mentor. With his background, and obviously playing here, he just tries to give me pointers any way he can.”
Marcus Marshall said that coming to JMU was one of the best decisions he’s ever made, and he’s looking forward to the rest of the playoffs.
In last week’s victory over Weber State, Marcus Marshall not only made big plays in the run game but also on special teams. Marshall returned a kickoff 30 yards to help set-up JMU’s game-tying touchdown.
Houston said that Marshall has not reached his full potential yet.
“His best days with us are in front of him,” Houston said. “And hopefully we see that this weekend. We’re excited about his future and really pleased with his progress.”