HUNTINGTON, W.Va– The biggest question throughout the offseason has surrounded Marshall’s defense and if it can make the same improvement from 2012 to 2013 that The Herd’s offense experienced from 2011 to 2012. New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater was brought in during the offseason and has completely changed the attitude and scheme of the defense.
Search the defensive depth chart and you’ll find more athletes playing in positions that best utilize their skills. D.J. Hunter is back to his natural position at free safety, joined by Taj Letman. Monterius Lovett, Derrik Thomas and Darryl Roberts are out wide at corner and the Jermaine Holmes, Evan McKelvey, Neville Hewitt and Raheem Waiters are all primed to create chaos at the linebacker positions. Herd wide receiver Tommy Shuler is confident this defense will be able to create turnovers all season long.
“They create a lot of turnovers. They’ve been playing great. You’ve got depth out there and they’re going to give it all they’ve got,” says Shuler.
Up front there are six defensive tackles that all are within shouting distance of each other when it comes to talent and ability. Jeremiah Taylor, Alex Bazzie, Ra’Shawde Myers will man the defensive end positions with Brandon Sparrow, Jarquez Samuel, Steve Dillon, and James Rouse at the tackles. If the defensive line can do its job then that should allow the linebackers to roam free.
“It actually causes a lot of havoc for the opponent. We have a tremendous amount of great athletes especially in our secondary and linebacker corps. But we figure it starts with the front four. If the front four can get some push and cause some havoc back there, have the quarterback uncomfortable then our guys can play comfortably. We put that burden on ourselves. We want to take that and let the team know it’s on us each and every game,” insists Bazzie.
The quarterback Marshall will be trying to make uncomfortable in the pocket has never lost a ball game. Senior Austin Boucher is one of those guys who has never disappointed when he’s had the chance to play. He replaced an injured Zac Dysert in 2010 and led Miami to a victory over Bowling Green late in the season. He went on to win three more games including the MAC Championship game and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. In fact he was named the MVP of the bowl game.
“Anytime you look at who you’re getting ready to play it starts at the quarterback position and Austin Boucher is a tremendous player,” says coach Doc Holliday. “He’s probably the best quarterback you’ve never heard of.”
Boucher has drawn comparisons to another MAC signal caller, Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton.
“I think by the end of the season he’s going to be really well known,” says defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
Boucher has not seen any significant playing time in the last two years and has only 13 passes for 158 yards during that span. He’ll have to shake off the rust quickly and he’ll have to do it without the Redhawks two leading receivers from last year. Nick Harwell transferred to Kansas after grabbing 68 balls for 870 yards last year and Andy Cruse is now with the Houston Texans. That leaves Dawan Scott as the returning leading receiver from last year.
“Scott’s extremely athletic and there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between Scott and Harwell. What gives us a little bit of an issue is those other receivers are all unknown. They haven’t played a whole lot,” says Holliday.
Last season the Redhawks averaged just 86.6 yards per game rushing, which ranked 119th in the country. Miami head coach Don Tredwell knows that must improve if the Redhawks hope to keep Marshall’s offense on the sidelines.
“As we came out of last season that was an immediate focal point we wanted to emphasize. We did that throughout the spring and this preseason we hit the ground running with that same mindset. We won’t know until we line up against another opponent but it won’t be for a lack of trying to improve the run game,” Tredwell says.
It’s the first test for Marshall’s much-maligned unit that had to be reminded all offseason of the yards and points it allowed in 2012. Heater says he’s eager to see how the defense responds in game conditions.
“Just how we handle it when the lights come on. Some guys handle it better and some guys can’t handle the adversity as well as others. Ultimately we’ve got to handle adversity as a defense. Handle it when it’s not going well. We’ve got to make plays and handle that success too.”