July 30, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Last week at the Big 12 Conference football media day, veteran Texas Coach Mack Brown said he wanted to be like Doc Holliday ... sort of.
"We want to be in the trend of the uptempo," Brown said. "We had 68 plays per game last year. I think Oregon had maybe 82. Marshall, I think, had in the 90s. So we'd like to have in the 80s, if we could, in number of plays per game."
Now, it seems Holliday wants his Thundering Herd - which averaged a nation-leading 90.6 plays per game in 2012 - to be more like Texas.
Doc wants to go fast, but unlike NASCAR, he doesn't want the Herd to go as fast as it can all the time.
That was just one of quite a few subjects Holliday tackled Monday in a 40-minute pre-August camp news conference.
He has filled all 85 scholarships for the first time in his four seasons, and his Herd reports Sunday morning for preseason camp, a week after Marshall was ranked No. 40 nationally in USA Today's preseason countdown. Holliday wants to see more of the same prolific numbers the offense produced last season, but counting plays isn't necessarily one of stats on which he's stuck.
"The one thing can't do is take a step back," Holliday said of the Herd offense. "I think this is the first time since I've been here where I think our offensive line can be a strength. To be a good offense, we had to play at an uptempo every game last year because when we started to slow things down a bit, we got out of synch.
"We weren't quite good enough up front to block `em, get hats on people and slow it down. To be a great offense, which is what we want to be, we've got to be able to change tempos, be able to slow it down when we need that, to help our defense a little bit. And I think our offensive line, being a strength now, can help us do that. That being said, we still want to have the ability to go fast, to go make plays, to be able to score ... We can't take a step back and we can't be satisfied where we are. We've got to continue to get better as an offense."
That starts up front, where Holliday's first three MU teams were lacking, but new line coach Alex Mirabal
has more horses to play in front of star quarterback Rakeem Cato
"We've got to play more offensive linemen and we can now," Holliday said. "Alex thinks he's got 10 offensive linemen, possibly as many as 12, that can actually go play and function in a game, and I think that's huge. No longer does (center) Chris Jasperse have to play 90-95 plays a game. Hopefully he can go give us 60 real good ones and then (Cam) Dees can go in there and give us another 30-40.
"I think there's no doubt that having that offensive line depth helps us. The freshmen that played last year at tailback (Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler, Remi Watson) are all bigger, stronger, will be better ... There's (at slot receiver, Tommy) Shuler, add Devon Smith; he's extremely fast, a good player. (DeAndre) Reaves become a good player. The outside guys have got to get settled a bit, but there's talent there. Davonte Allen played well, (Craig) Wilkins at times a year ago ... Demetrius (Evans), Shawney Kersey. We've got some young kids we'll throw into the mix, Justin Hunt and Josh Knight, at wideout, young players can help us at a skill position.
"I've said all along (backup Blake) Frohnapfel is a guy who deserves to play some at quarterback. He's proved he can win and there's got to be a role for him on that offense and that will happen. We've got a lot of guys with experience back there. We just can't take a step back.
"The thing Bill (Legg, offensive coordinator) did good job last year was he took what defense gave us, and we were one of top three in rushing in the conference, as much as we throw it. One thing we have to be able to do is what we did a year ago, and not try to put a square peg into a round hole, take what the defense gives us.
"At some point, when you get into a four-minute situation or something like that where you can just tee it up and hopefully run the ball when you want to ... Hopefully that offensive line has grown and matured enough that at times, even with an extra (defensive) hat in the box, we can get a yard or two when we need it."
Holliday, 56, obviously grasps that offense is only part of the equation. Defensively, history won't repeat itself, he said.
"Two things happened last spring," Holliday said. We've added about 10 bodies. Stefan Houston, Kent Turene, Neville Hewitt - he's been here since May, and we have great expectations for him. (Linebacker Evan) McKelvey is back; he's healthy. At inside linebacker we've got some guys who can run and play now that we didn't have in the past.
"In the secondary, Taj Letman was an addition, we've got A.J. Leggett healthy, Darryl Roberts back, Keith Baxter is healthy no, and with the addition of Corey Tindal, he may have been our best player in the spring. That secondary is a lot more athletic than what it was.
"(On the line) I like the addition of Gary Thompson (at "fox," or rush end), he's going to be a tremendous player. His measurements are off the charts. You add Josh Brown to that mix, he's 292 pounds right now and looks great. (Brandon) Sparrow is back, along with Jarquez Samuel and (Steve) Dillon and (James) Rouse is back (from injury), and with (junior college signee Arnold) Blackmon at defensive end, we've got more depth than we've had last couple years.
"Chuck (Heater, new defensive coordinator) did a great job - as well as the rest of the defensive staff -- as far as teaching those kids, getting them to play hard, adding some pieces to that puzzle. It's a personnel-driven game, as I've said all along.
"Last year, offensively, it wasn't just that Billy and those guys just figured out how to call plays and coach. You hand the ball to Grooms and Butler and Remi and those kind of things made it better offensively. I'm hoping that defensively -- with the Houstons, the Tindals and those guys up front -- that we'll play better defense, which we need."
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Some of the other subjects Holliday touched on in the Shewey Building session Monday:
On his players' regard for the predicted big success this season:
"I don't think they're any different than what the coaches are. I enjoy the high expectations; I don't want to be anywhere where expectations aren't extremely high. They also have to understand that high expectations mean absolutely nothing. You've got to produce on the field.
"It's all about getting it done ... make sure they understand that the expectations that are out there are a good thing but on the other hand they mean absolutely nothing. There's not a poll I've ever read in the preseason that worked out the way it was picked for the most part.
"It's a good thing because everybody must think we've got a chance to be pretty good and I'd rather have that than everybody thinking we're not a very good team and don't have very good players. It's a good thing, but they'll be told multiple times they don't mean a whole lot.
"My expectations are extremely high. I don't think I ever lower my expectation, my standards. As the head coach, from a personnel standpoint, I feel better going into this year than I ever have. We've got some pieces in place where we've got a shot if we take care of business and prepare.
"We've got a shot to have a pretty good football team. I don't look around right now and see a lot of holes like I've seen in the past. I think for the most part, both sides of the ball, we have a chance to have good players in place and as a head coach, that's exciting ... We're looking forward to Sunday and getting things started."
On hurry-up offenses, and how that style of play relates to a team's defense:
"I do know that people who play fast can sometimes compete, and it gives them the opportunity to compete with teams that probably have better players than they do. I think it's an equalizer, to an extent. I don't think it is; I know it is.
"But I also know that teams that play extremely fast, if you don't play defense, you'll still get beat. I think there's a lot of dialogue out there now about teams that play extremely fast, and what's that do to your defenses.
"You look around the country right now... the teams that played extremely fast, there aren't many of them that played very good defense. And in order to win championships, at the end of the day when you look up, the teams that played great defense are in those championship games, whether it be Conference USA, the national championship, or whatever. At some point, you've got to stop somebody.
"I think there's a fine line. I think it's the way you practice. There's been a lot of talk in the offseason and we did a lot of research prior to spring ball on how you practice, how does that affect the way your defense plays? And we worked extremely hard all spring on making sure we changed tempos, making sure what the defense had to get to get their feet into the ground.
"Now, on the other hand, we're going to line up this year against a lot of teams ... like Southern Miss will be extremely high tempo, because that's what they did at Oklahoma State, that's what they played. That's what (new USM Coach Todd Monken, who left the Big 12 school) knows. And so we're going to have to play that. Playing against our offense that does play fast at times, the defense has to be prepared for that because in our league, you're going to get it.
"You can't tell me that at Texas and Oklahoma, they don't have good players. High-tempo offenses gave them a lot of problems. You look at Oklahoma-West Virginia last year and what did Tavon Austin have? 700 total yards? Oklahoma has some guys who can play.
"I think a couple things that are happening is defenses are having an extremely hard time matching up against skill players in space. It's all become a space game out here. What's happening is you have all these wideouts that are really good players in space and defenses haven't recruited the kind of athletes, numbers of `em, to match up.
"Because when you go four wides and I've got Tommy Shuler and little MooMoo Devon Smith) in the other spot and I've got two guys out here (wide) who are pretty good, and I've got Grooms and Butler in the backfield...You're going to have to have two corner-type bodies ... You can't take safeties and linebackers and walk `em out and make tackles in space.
"What's happening is you've got to recruit a lot more safeties and DBs and those kind of athletes, No. 1, to match up with offenses that spread the ball, and No. 2, you need more than four defensive linemen to go get that quarterback because after you get defensive linemen out there for 30 straight plays, they can't keep putting pressure on (the quarterback). You've got to start rolling defensive linemen, more defensive linemen, more second-level players to match up with what you're seeing, and I don't think the defenses, to this point, have caught up with the high-tempo offenses. And I think the way you practice affects you because you've got to be able to slow it down so your defense can get their feet in the ground and go play.
"We understand our problems. We understood what our personnel problems were a year ago. You've got to have athletes, and now we have more of them. You've got to have more pass rushers, and we've got more of them. I think the biggest area we tried to improve to be able to deal with that (is bringing in) the Stefan Houstons, the Neville Hewitts, the Evan McKelveys, the (Kent) Turenes. That way the Corey Tindals now can go in and be nickels. We've got two young freshmen coming in, Michael Johnson and Tiquan Lang, who can hopefully give us some more depth there, more safeties, with D.J. (Hunter) going back (to safety from linebacker).
"That's why I feel better defensively, because Chuck has some pieces in place that can address the issues I just talked about. I think the biggest issue that the spread offense gives you is people just don't have the numbers of defensive personnel needed. We talked about that all along. We talked about that in our (staff) meeting just this morning.
"Your number to recruit is 12 linebackers. Well, in today's age, do you recruit 12 linebackers, or do you recruit eight linebackers and instead of recruiting eight corners, you recruit 12 corners? So you can get those kinds of athletes on the field because it's a chess match. I think we're moving in the right direction to be able to line up and play against what we're going to see."
On whether the Herd's lofty 2013 prospects is what he envisioned when he was hired in December 2009:
"Well, it was, or I wouldn't have taken the job, to be honest. I knew (Athletic Director) Mike Hamrick and I knew what his vision was. And I knew that his vision was to build that pressbox (new sky suites) and to build that indoor facility, to get us up to par so we can go recruit and win championships and he's done a tremendous job.
"I don't know that Mike has gotten enough credit with that he's done with the economic situation out there. You look around the country and there's not a whole lot of people who are doing what we're doing, an indoor facility, a hall of fame, an academic center, the whole deal to get us to where we need to go. Mike and John (Sutherland) with the Big Green and all of them, they've done a tremendous job.
"The happiest day of my life was when I saw that bulldozer out there moving that dirt (on the indoor facility site). Because now we can walk (recruiting prospects) out there and say, `Hey, the dirt's moving; we've started.' There's no turning back now.
"So, to answer your question, yeah, that's what I did envision, and I knew Mike -- the person he is -- he was going to get that done, and he's done a tremendous job doing it."