MCGILL: @HerdFB Defense Puts QBs Under Pressure|
Sept. 27, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall defensive tackles coach J.C. Price knows a thing or two about the pass rush. He was an All-American player at Virginia Tech, where he recorded 17 sacks and 30 tackles for a loss during his four-year career with the Hokies.
Price advises to use caution, though, when evaluating a defense’s ability to pressure the quarterback by using only one metric.
“The pass rush has to do with getting the quarterback off his spot, speeding up the quarterback’s clock, getting him to move his feet in the pocket,” Price said. “There’s more to defense than sacks, but everyone is enamored with sacks.”
Price’s defensive front, which he coaches along with defensive ends coach Cornell Brown, has been one of college football’s best at generating a pass rush this season – by the numbers and beyond.
Marshall is No. 10 nationally in sacks per game – 3.67 per (11 in three games). The Herd is No. 21 in tackles for a loss per game – 4.33 (13 in three games). The Herd has accumulated its sack numbers while seeing 97 pass attempts this season.
Price’s defensive group should see ample opportunities to add to those numbers this Saturday when Marshall (2-1, 0-0 Conference USA) plays at Cincinnati (2-2, 0-1 American) this Saturday night at 7. The game will be shown on ESPN3.
“There’s more to affecting the pass game than sacks,” Price said. “Ty Tyler had seven pressures against Miami. I wish he could’ve cleaned some of them up, but he affected the pass game more than anyone I’ve seen someone do here in a long time.”
Marshall recorded two sacks in the season opening win against Miami, but the stat sheet showed a staggering 20 quarterback hurries. Tyler and fellow defensive lineman Ryan Bee were responsible for their fair share. The next week, at North Carolina State, the defense recorded two sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Then, against Kent State, the defense swarmed for seven sacks – the most by a Herd defense since Nov. 23, 2013 at FIU (7.0) – and 11 tackles for a loss.
But, Price and his players maintain this is a team statistic. There can be a dominant edge rusher – like a Marshall legend Vinny Curry – who can influence a game and pile up numbers, but the pressure on the quarterback has to be a team accomplishment.
“You can’t do something without the other 10 guys on the field,” said Marquis Couch, a sophomore defensive end. “It’s a team game. The tackles for a loss matter. The sacks matter. But if they can’t score, they can’t win.”
Bee, a junior defensive tackle with 11.5 career sacks, said the team defensive goals change from week to week. A passing team will give the defensive front more opportunities to get after the quarterback, but from there the opposition’s scheme could affect those numbers. Will the offense make quick passes and negate the defense’s pass rush? Is the opposing QB less mobile and more willing to stand in the pocket as it collapses around him?
Against Kent State, Price and Brown did not even bother setting a goal for sacks against the triple option Golden Flashes.
“We didn’t even think they’d throw it seven times,” Price said.
But as Kent State trailed and changed quarterbacks, the game plan changed. Marshall had an opportunity to apply pressure and recorded three sacks late in the third quarter and four in the fourth. That pushed the Herd up the national rankings among FBS teams in sacks and tackles for a loss.
So far this season the sacks have come from seven different players, and all three levels of the defense have contributed.
“The board is in the defensive line room, but if a linebacker gets a sack, it goes on our board,” Bee said. “It’s a team stat.”
Marshall is off to its best start in sacks under eighth-year head coach Doc Holliday. The previous best three-game start to the season came in Holliday’s inaugural season with the Herd – 10 sacks in three games (at Ohio State, vs. West Virginia and at Bowling Green).
Cincinnati has allowed 7.0 sacks this season, which ranks No. 57 among FBS programs. Solid, but the statistic is impressive considering Cincinnati has attempted 157 passes in four games – nearly 40 per contest.
Whether or not the Herd adds to its sack total, Price wants the opposing quarterback flustered. Where the source of that frustration comes from on the defense, he does not care.
“We don’t care who gets the sack or who applies the pressure,” Price said. “Just get after it.”