HUNTINGTON -- You have a rich tradition in developing solid passing quarterbacks. You're the top passing team in the Mid-American Conference with 297 yards per game and 12 TDs.
You're facing a team who allows an average of 40 more yards per game against the pass than against the run. How do you start the game?
If you're the Marshall Thundering Herd, playing against the Buffalo Bulls Saturday at Marshall Stadium, on 11 of your first 12 plays, you run the football.
Doesn't make sense? Let Marshall coach Bob Pruett explain it to you: The running game needs to be established to win football games. It also helps open the passing game.
There was nothing showing in the Buffalo defense that made Pruett want to run the ball. That was the plan all along.
"We wanted to run the ball and try to get better at it," he said. "It didn't make any difference what (defense Buffalo) was in. We wanted to run the football, and we were able to do it there for a quarter."
On 11 plays in the first two drives, the Herd rushed for 63 yards. But it cost Pruett his starting tailback.
After rushing five times for 43 yards in the first series, Brandon Carey twisted his knee. He'll be out anywhere from two to four weeks.
Now the tailback-by-committee plan Pruett installed at the beginning of the year lies mainly in the hands of Chanston Rodgers. But Rodgers doesn't mind. In fact, he knows what Carey's going through.
Rodgers himself was sidelined with a torn anterior cruciate ligament during spring practice and had to watch others take his carries.
"When somebody goes down, you have to have somebody to step it up," Rodgers said. "That's what I'll try to do. We feel any one of our backs can produce."
Receiver Darius Watts also suffered an injury Saturday; he twisted his ankle returning a kick after the Herd scored on a safety. He's expected back for Thursday's game against Western Michigan.
But make no mistake about it -- despite Pruett's decision to run the ball early against Buffalo, Marshall still is a predominantly passing team, although quarterback Byron Leftwich is taking his lumps as the result of injuries to a depleted offensive line.
"He's getting a little better every week," Pruett said. "I'm glad he's a big, strong guy, because he's taken some hits. But he's like a Timex guy -- he keeps on ticking.
"We're still a little rusty with our offensive line with some protection. There were times we had certain personnel on the field, and we didn't pick it up."
And Leftwich and Co. finally had the offensive breakout game they were looking for against the Bulls.
Marshall tallied 631 offensive yards Saturday -- 483 coming through the air.
The breakout game usually comes by the third game of the year, Leftwich said. Prior to Saturday, the offense was "OK."
"We really weren't doing Marshall stuff," he said.
"This was the one that we let everybody know that yeah, our offense is pretty good. We just wanted to have an explosion, and it came in the second half.
"I don't think there's a better receiving corps in the nation than our guys. I wouldn't rather have another receiving corps in the country. We're six- seven- eight-deep, and we have confidence in all of them."
Lanier Washington led the way with 143 yards on seven catches and two TDs, including one for 90 yards. David Foye also caught four balls for 97 yards and a TD, and Watts caught three passes for 91 yards and a TD.
This is where establishing a running game comes into play, Foye said.
"When we run the ball, it opens up the pass," he said. "Our passing game is one of the best in the nation -- at least that's what we like to think. We just run the routes, and we're sure Byron will get us the ball. We capitalize on big plays."
Whether Pruett decides to open with a running attack or go to its passing strength against Western remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure -- a repeat of Saturday's first half against the Broncos, when Marshall led Buffalo by a meager 17-14 at halftime, would not be a good thing.
"We surely can't play that way for a half, a quarter or for a minute in the rest of our league games and expect to be successful," Pruett said.
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.