HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—After an extra week off, Marshall matches up with Middle Tennessee State (3-4) for its second straight road game. Back-to-back road games have been less than kind to The Herd for the better part of the last decade.
You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last time Marshall has won consecutive road games. Those wins came against Ohio on Oct. 9th and at Kent State on Oct. 16th. Since then Marshall has not been able to click off back-to-back wins away from Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
If Marshall wants to contend for the C-USA title this season, it must win consecutive road games, not once but twice. Marshall must still go on the road to Tulsa and FIU on Nov. 9th and Nov. 14th later this season.
In The Herd’s last game, it was certainly not its best offensive performance. FAU came out in different defensive looks and caused Marshall to check at the line of scrimmage and switch into plays the defense seemingly wanted. The running game sputtered and offensive coordinator Bill Legg says the Owls did a good job of taking way Rakeem Cato’s favorite target.
“They bracketed Shuler on one side, they bracketed Gator on the other side and they played press man on the outside. They did a lot of movement up front which they hadn’t shown and we couldn’t get the running game going consistently. At the same time we couldn’t get the pass game going consistently because they were forcing everything to the outside.”
Shuler did end up with five catches, which gave him 167 for his career moving him into 11th all-time, passing Aaron Dobson. And Gator Hoskins made the crucial catch along the sideline on the final drive of the game that eventually led to the game winning field goal. Marshall made the plays when it needed to. Legg says offensive success for The Herd comes down to making the correct reads and knowing what the defense is giving.
“You’ve got to recognize zone versus man and you’ve got to understand how it affects the way you operate and how it affects the reads, how it affects the blocking and the whole nine yards. That’s been a focus for us, just trying to get some little things cleaned up so we can be more consistent.”
Marshall will need to be consistent against the Blue Raiders who boast a defensive unit that has created 20 turnovers this year, which is second in the nation. Over the span of the last 20 games, MTSU has come up with 19 interceptions. Just this season, seven different players have combined for ten picks.
“They’ll play multiple packages and different looks,” says center Chris Jasperse. “They like to switch people up and bring some heat.”
One of the guys the Blue Raiders like to bring is linebacker T.T. Barber. He’s 10th in the country averaging nearly 11 tackles a game and ninth in solo stops with 6.4. He’s on pace to collect 130 tackles for the season, which would crack MTSU’s top six for a single season. Legg knows it will be key for Marshall to contain him.
“Very physical, will run through you without any hesitation and is a daggone good football player,” compliments Legg.
Jasperse says Barber flies around the MTSU defense.
“He’s not the most athletic guy or the best guy but he goes hard every play,” says Jasperse.
MTSU likes to create havoc around the quarterback. It is second in the league with 18 sacks on the year. Jasperse says stopping the pressure is first a matter of reading the defense before the snap.
“We just have to identify the fronts and make sure we know who everyone has,” believes Jasperse.
And if the offensive line can pick up the MTSU blitzes that should leave something open for Cato and company.
“If we pick it up that means its probably man-free back there and our receivers can take advantage of that and that will open up the running game inside and on the parameter,” knows Jasperse.
Another player to watch for MTSU is safety Kevin Byard. The sophomore set his career-high in tackles the last two games registering 15 and 17. Doc Holliday says Byrd is a phenomenal athlete.
“He’s a linebacker playing safety. He’s led the team in tackles the last two weeks. He’s a really good player that comes down hill and makes plays,” scouts Holliday.
Holliday admits to win this week; The Herd must improve on offense.
“There’s no doubt that we have to player better in all phases. Get back to those last couple of drives it got back to looking like it is supposed to.”