By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Let’s say it’s third-and-2, and Marshall’s defense needs one of those “FedEx” football plays – you know, when the Herd absolutely, positively needs to get there and make a stop.
Who’s the guy?
“Yep, Jermaine Holmes,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said of the sophomore middle linebacker from, Valdosta, Ga.
As the Marshall moves forward from an opening loss at West Virginia with Saturday night’s home opener against former Southern Conference foe Western Carolina (1-0), the Herd needs stops – the kind Holmes made on his first tackle of the game – and more, Rippon said.
With WVU already leading 13-0, Mountaineer Coach Dana Holgorsen got greedy – he later called himself “stupid and stubborn” on the decision – to try and score on fourth down from the Herd 3 in the final seconds of the first quarter.
Holmes wrapped up West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith after a 1-yard gain … but that was one of only four tackles for a player that Rippon needs to lead a young defense.
Holmes knows he is that guy, but, of course it’s tough to get free for tackles when one of WVU’s 300-pound linemen is in your grill all day when the Herd is playing a three-man front, right?
“I felt like West Virginia was a really good team,” Holmes said. “Great offensive line, Geno Smith, but I also felt like we never came out close to what we are, what we need to be. Even though we’re young, we can’t make excuses. We have to put all of the pieces together.”
The 5-foot-11, 245-pound Holmes is making the Herd’s defensive calls. He’s a neophyte at it, even though he made eight starts a year ago and played in all 13 games, making 26 tackles.
Holmes and Rippon said Wednesday after the Herd’s practice that it’s still a work in progress, particularly on a defense with only three senior starters.
“It’s a deal where we might see similar offenses to what we saw, but I don’t know we’ll see a better one,” Rippon said. “The preparation was hard in that you wanted to get (Holmes) ready to play that game, but you didn’t … the skill, the speed, 12 (Smith), were all very, very good.
“The comment that came to the kids was that they came on me so much faster than in practice. Well, seven of them hadn’t played in a game, including Jermaine, asking him to do what we’re asking. We had Jermaine start the game, then come off, so he didn’t have to worry about the pregame hype. Just go out and play. Watch the next couple of series, then go back in.”
Holmes said that he learned that making play calls in practice and in a game with both teams going uptempo is simply different.
“It was confusing, getting all of the play calls,” he said. “The D-line was all ready to go, waiting to find out what I’m going to do. In the spring and in camp I learned a lot, but I’ve still got to work on it a little bit. I know that.”
Rippon is practicing patience with Holmes, but it’s difficult to do when you’re giving up 655 yards and 69 points.
“Here’s the first (game) where Jermaine is in charge of everything, and that had a lot to do with his performance, our performance,” Rippon said. “We still have to get chemistry, and the only way you get chemistry is under fire.
“We had great practices in camp, great scrimmages, but the bullets are really flying now, and it’s ‘Where’s the guy next to me,’ and I’ve got to worry about myself. The communication just wasn’t there, and I think we learned a lot.”
Holmes admitted he struggled to cope with the mismatch and a WVU lineman in the same footage as him.
“They had very good technique, and with us 3-down, they were doing stuff I couldn’t get off me. What I learned from looking at the game film from Saturday is I need to be better at technique. I saw what I did wrong, what I did right.
“Some of the time I was taking on blocks, I was leaning in with my shoulder and then my feet weren’t right. Coach Rip told me I need to take it with my hands and shift ‘em off.”
The physical part of Holmes’ responsibility is only part of his job now, and he knows it. Rippon, who is also the Herd linebacker coach, needs Holmes to be his voice on the field.
“We know Jermaine is going to be a real, real good player; we saw that last year,” Rippon said. “But he also understands now that he’s got to be the general. They’re looking for him, and that’s a new role for him. And like everything else in our defense, it’s a progression.”
And Holmes said after the Marshall offense put up 34 points, 545 yards and 101 plays against the nationally ranked Mountaineers, it’s the other side of the ball that he’s “coordinating” that needs to show its stuff in coming weeks.
“The offense did their thing,” Holmes said. “Our defense needs to pick up from the offense and put our pieces together. It’s on me, it’s on us. The offense put it together. We need to do that starting right now.”