HUNTINGTON W.Va.—Last Saturday was by far and away the best performance by Marshall’s defense in more than a year. Miami was limited to 239 yards of total offense and 92 of those yards came on a pair of big pass plays.
So, in week two where does Marshall want to improve? It is limiting big plays down the field.
“We had those two big plays, if we tighten those up they could’ve had less than a hundred yards in the game,” says defensive end Jeremiah Taylor. “You can always get better fundamentally and there’s no telling where we could be.”
For the most part defensive coordinator Chuck Heater liked what he saw from his unit in its first test of the season. After converting two third downs in the first quarter, Miami went 0-for-9 on third downs the rest of the game. The Redhawks had just 74 yards rushing and only ran 57 plays in the game.
“I like the energy. I liked how they played through some adversity. I thought that was important and they handled it well,” says Heater.
Two points of emphasis for The Herd this season will be getting pressure on the quarterback and creating turnovers. Marshall did both against the Redhawks.
“That’s what needs to happen if they’re trying to stay on level one and block the d-line then the linebackers need to show up and make plays,” says Taylor. “If they try to come off the d-line and go block the linebackers then the d-line has to make plays. I feel like we’ve done a way better job of making those plays.”
Raheem Waiters also had a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown. Marshall nearly had a fumble recovery for a touchdown but had it called back when the officials reviewed the play.
One area Marshall has improved in this season is depth all across the defense. In fact, no defensive player was on the field for more than 36 snaps against the Redhawks. The Herd was able to roll guys in and out and not see a drop off in production.
“There are a lot more faces on Saturday that played that didn’t play a year ago. You combine that new personnel with what Chuck (Heater) and that defensive staff have done and we’re better defensively. There’s no doubt about that,” says Doc Holliday.
This week, Marshall will look to keep the defense rolling against the appropriately named Runnin’ Bulldogs. Gardner-Webb rode redshirt-junior tailback Juanne Blount to victory over Furman. Blount took over the game in the second half rushing for 120 yards in the final two quarters. He finished the day with 162 yards on 28 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
“Anytime you can stop the run and force them into becoming a one-dimensional team, you have a shot. We have to do that. They ran the ball extremely well last week with those two backs. I’m sure they’ll come in and try to do the same thing to us. We have to be able to stop the run, “ predicts Holliday.
Redshirt junior quarterback Lucas Beatty didn’t have a bad day throwing the ball for the Bulldogs last week. Beatty completed 22-of-31 for 276 yards and two touchdowns and impressed defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
“He’s really a tough competitive guy and he got hit a lot. He took them down in the fourth quarter to win the game and was getting hit high and low but just kept his eyes downfield and made some really nice, outstanding plays. That always impresses me when the quarterback is tough and doesn’t get distracted by the rush,” praises Heater.
On the receiving end of those passes will be receivers Kenny Cook and Richard Jules, who combined for 17 grabs for 207 yards and two touchdowns against Furman.
Yes, on paper this is a game The Herd should be heavily favored to win. However, Doc Holliday has reminded his squad that seven teams thought the same thing last week.
“We tried to stress to our guys that there were seven teams sitting in the same boat we were last Tuesday and, whether it was preparation or overconfidence, they woke up Sunday morning and weren’t very happy. Oregon State was ranked 25th in the country and got beat by Eastern Washington and all those things took place at their stadium. Kansas State has won the Big 12 conference two straight years and was beaten by North Dakota State. Iowa State is in the Big 12 conference and got beat by Northern Iowa. South Florida got crushed by McNeese State 53-21. UCONN got crushed by Towson 33-18. Eastern Illinois beat San Diego State 40-to-19. Georgia State got beat by Samford 31-to-21. The message to our football team is that you better be prepared every week to go play or you will get beat.”