HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Last week, we ready to declare that Chuck Heater had turned Marshall’s defense around. The Herd had faced the likes of Virginia Tech and was ranked 10th in the country in total defense allowing just 298.2 yards per game.
But, when it took the field last Thursday against Middle Tennessee State it looked like the 2012 unit that was ranked 103rd in the country allowing 456.8 yards per game. The Blue Raiders rolled up 585 yards and scored 51 points, both season highs against Marshall’s defense.
Defensive end Alex Bazzie says the only thing to do is to move on and not let that happen again.
“You can’t dwell on a loss like that,” said Bazzie. “As bad as it hurt, you have to roll and move on fast. We’ve got to attack the next game with excitement and don’t look back and mope around.”
Marshall is by no means out of contention for the conference championship but it is no longer in the driver’s seat. The Herd had the chance to run the table over the last six games, but with the loss last week there’s no room for another slip up. Monterius Lovett said the team knows its goals are still out there.
“We’ve got five games left and we’ve got to make the best of it. We can’t have as many mistakes in the game as we did last week.”
Heater said the issues Marshall endure on defense last week are fixable. Middle Tennessee State ran more power than was expected and had two offensive linemen back in the lineup who had missed time due to injury. However, Heater said that doesn’t excuse a lack of execution.
“You’ve got to leverage the football. The ball gets outside you bad things happen. I’ve got to put us in better situations on third down where we’re more anticipating situations. It’s a combination of all those things that left us on the field too long but they’re all fixable,” says Heater.”
This is a good week for the Marshall defense to heal after last week’s forgettable performance. Southern Miss is ranked 118th in the country in total offense, averaging just 285.7 yards per game this season. The biggest reason for the offensive struggles has been the significant amount of youth on the team. Of the 74 players on the roster, 38 are listed as a redshirt sophomore or younger.
“I think the thing he sees in the kids they’re playing is they have talent and they’re going to get better. It’s a credit to him and his staff because he’s got them playing hard,” says Holliday of first year head coach Thomas Monken.
Seven true freshmen have started at least one game this year and that includes starting quarterback Nick Mullins. He made his first start against North Texas and completed 12-of-31 for 210 yards and touchdown. Heater says, Mullins making just his second start, hasn’t seen as many coverages and schemes as a more veteran quarterback has.
“You assume he’s not able to create as many plays as a more seasoned guy would. He’s got some talent but made some mistakes and turned the ball over,” says Heater.
Heater says he wants to make certain Mullins is harassed in the pocket all day long.
“You got to be able to cover people and bring a few extra people. You certainly don’t want to let him get confident or comfortable.”
Heater said the Golden Eagles have had some success on offense by getting defenses out of position.
“They have a quick screen game they use. They had a couple big plays with one-on-one with their big receivers,” says Heater.
One of the few seniors, Rick Bradley, Jr. has developed into one of those big play guys, with 14 catches for 277 yards.
Players know they cannot take Southern Miss lightly, and Heater points to the Middle Tennessee State game as an example.
“You never know what team will show up, like the team we played last week. That team was up against the ropes and came out fighting and played well, better than they’d played on tape. You can’t worry about that, you got to worry about yourself and what your issues are.”
Marshall has not left itself much wiggle room through the final five games of the season. It has used up its ‘mulligan’ for conference play if you will. Doc Holliday compared the final five games of the year to a playoff run.
“Every game is a championship game. You’d better go in and win it but if we do anything other than focus on Southern Miss it isn’t going to matter. If you’re thoughts are anywhere other than Southern Miss then we’ll be sitting here next week talking about we don’t control our own destiny.”