HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Marshall’s defense is starting to get some national recognition for its dramatic improvement from last year to this year.
Coachsearch.com charted the 12 most improved scoring defenses from last year and Marshall was the runaway number one on the list. The Herd is allowing 24 fewer points per game this season under first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. Arizona is second on the list 15.5 points better than last season.
Now, seven games into the season, I think we can officially say Chuck Heater has turned around the Marshall defense. While MTSU’s defense can boast 20 turnovers this year, Marshall has vastly improved in the takeaway category. The Herd has picked off the opposing quarterback ten times and created 13 turnovers in 2013.
For The Herd, getting healthy was one of the main focuses during the bye week. Nagging injuries were starting to pile up after seven games and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater says the extra time off helped to get some guys healthy.
“Those off weeks are always good for that, but now we’re on a six week march. We’re going into this one feeling pretty healthy,” says Heater.
The Herd will need to feel healthy especially along the defensive front. The Blue Raiders left side of the offensive line features two of the best linemen in the country. Guard Josh Walker and tackle Darius Johnson may very well be two of the best linemen Marshall will go up against all season. Doc Holliday says they are NFL caliber guys.
“They’re both going to play in the NFL someday,” notes Holliday. “They’re excellent and I’m not saying that because we’re playing them, go watch them on film. They’re extremely good, they’re extremely physical. They’ve played a lot of football and are really good players. Our defensive line has got to play well. It always starts up front and they’re going to have to be extremely physical to play with these guys.”
In fact, Walker and Johnson were the only healthy offensive linemen for the Blue Raiders heading into the North Texas game. MTSU started a third string center and two freshmen backups were on the field in the 34-7 loss to the Mean Green.
Naturally you can expect MTSU to want to run the ball that direction, behind their best offensive linemen. Junior tailback Jordan Parker will shoulder the load in the backfield. Parker rushed for a career high 156 yards against Western Carolina. The sophomore now has 1,377 yards for his career.
“Those are two really good running backs. Parker is nicked up a little but and Reggie Whatley is really dynamic. He’s a little guy that can split the defense,” says Heater.
Marshall’s defense has also spent a little extra time this week preparing for two totally different quarterbacks. Logan Kilgore is the veteran leader of the team. He has or will set nearly every MTSU passing record before it’s all said and done. He’s a prototypical pocket passer that will look to throw before taking off and running with the ball.
Against North Texas, freshman Austin Grammer saw significant playing time. He was just 6-of-22 passing but rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries. He’s the polar opposite of Kilgore.
“They’re two guys that bring different skill sets to the table. Obviously you have to prepare for both of them,” asserts Heater.
Defensive lineman Alex Bazzie says the young Grammer showed poise during his time on the field against North Texas.
“He showed us a lot. He showed us he’s capable of starting. We’ll just have to take on the challenge. He’s shown he can run the offense. They have confidence in him that’s why they played him. We’ll just have to contain him,” says Bazzie.
But Marshall has already faced a scheduled full of athletic quarterbacks. So, James Rouse is confident the defense will be ready.
“I think it helps tremendously because we’ve already prepared for those types of quarterbacks and it just gives us a little edge.”
Doc Holliday says if he were a gambling man, he’d bet on Kilgore lining up on the field when the Blue Raiders run out the offense.
“I think Kilgore will be the quarterback. He’s done so much for them. I’d be surprised if it is not Kilgore. We’ve prepared for both but if I were guessing I’d say it will be Kilgore.”