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BOGACZYK: Herd Opponents Not Gambling with Rouse

James Rouse
Sept. 29, 2014

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Perhaps James Rouse should play football with a poker face.

Marshall plays just one (Rice) of the four Texas schools in Conference USA this regular season, but Rouse, the Herd’s star defensive tackle, surely is dealing with a "hold ‘em" game.

That’s what happens when you’re not only 6 feet 5, 271 pounds – and quick for that size – but you’re also experienced and maybe most importantly, the 2014 preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in Coach Doc Holliday’s program.

"There are more double-teams and stuff like that," Rouse said Monday when asked about opponents’ tactics in keeping him out of their backfields in the Herd’s 4-0 start. "But it’s about improving my game. Practice harder, play harder in finding ways to get free.

"But it’s also helping my teammates make plays, so it’s helping the defense overall."

In Marshall one-sided victories over Miami (Ohio), Rhode Island, Ohio and Akron, Rouse has been doubled, held, tackled and more in the trenches. That’s what happens when you go from nearly two injured years away from the game to an all-conference pick and Herd team MVP, as Rouse was last season.

"It was surprising at first," Rouse said of the special attention, "because I wasn’t really focused on it. I was just thinking it would be the stuff I got last year. The coaches told me I probably was going to get different looks, but once I saw it in a game, I began to understand what was happening and it was OK and I’ve been able to adapt to it."

Rouse, who led the Marshall defense last season with six sacks among 14 tackles for losses, has only six tackles total in four games, with no sacks. He has one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hurries.

As the Herd (4-0, 0-0) heads to Old Dominion (3-2, 1-1) to open C-USA play Saturday at noon, the only thing slowing Rouse as consistently as opponents’ tactics is the personnel rotation on the Herd defensive front.


 

 

Playing nine linemen regularly among the front four, it’s much more of a shared-snaps situation on coordinator Chuck Heater’s defense. Rouse – in his sixth year in the MU program after gaining an extra season of eligibility due to his two-year hiatus caused by back and Achilles injuries and surgeries -- hasn’t played more than the 46 snaps he had in the season-opening victory at Miami (Ohio). Rouse is averaging only 37 snaps per game.

"If teams double me, other guys are getting a chance to make plays and if the stats come, they come, and if they don’t they don’t," Rouse said. "As long as we win games – and ultimately that’s what you want to do -- and play good defense, then everything will work out.

"Rotating in and out helps a lot. You don’t have to be out there when you’re tired. If you’re tired, you can’t contribute your best. You come in and you’re fresh, you’re able to do what you need to do."

There was no hesitation by Rouse when asked his opinion on – among the many accomplishments of the Herd defense this season – what stood out in his mind one-third of the way through the regular season.

"I think the best thing we’ve been doing is when our backs are up against the wall, we find a way to not let other teams score a touchdown against us," the senior defensive tackle said. "They haven’t gotten into the end zone on us.

"In sudden-change situations, in our red zone, and it looks like they’re going to score, we find a way to get off the field."

In its three games against FBS foes – all from the Herd’s former Mid-American Conference home – Marshall’s defense has made seven stands with stops inside its 10. The results were three field goals, a missed field goal, two turnovers and a fourth-down stop.

Heater’s defense has allowed eight touchdowns, but five of those have come in fourth quarters, mostly with backups on the field. The Herd has outscored foes 103-6 in first halves (field goals by Miami and Akron).

Marshall has 20 three-and-outs in four games (and 57 opponent drives), and has a 25.4 percent third-down conversion defense, which ranks fifth nationally.

The Herd is in the top 20 in red zone defense, too, allowing scores on only 69.2 percent of foes’ trips inside the 20.

"I think it’s just the mindset of the defense," Rouse said of a unit that has thwarted opponents at the Herd 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 (twice) and 9. "We’re just taking one play at a time and not worrying about the previous play or the one after, just the one that’s here.

"One of the things we really wanted to work on in the offseason was getting off the field on third down and not give a team another set of opportunities to get a first down."

One number the Herd wants to improve is its eight sacks in four games, a figure that has been backed up, however, by 24 quarterback hurries. Rouse hopes to use his experience and success of 2013 to boost the Marshall defense as league play begins.

"The biggest thing I learned last year is your technique has to be good to be able to play inside where I play," said Rouse, who moved from defensive end after his return from inactivity. "I think last year I was just out there, trying to make plays, using my athleticism more than technique and what coaches were teaching me to do.

"I think this year I can really focus on technique and I understand blocking schemes better and know what to prepare for."

SEEN ‘N’ HERD: At his weekly press briefing Monday, Old Dominion Coach Bobby Wilder lauded the Herd: "I think this is the best team we’ve ever played, and we’ve played some good teams (in ODU’s five-plus years since resuming football for the first time since World War II). "Last year we played East Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. So far this year, NC State, Rice, and Middle Tennessee, but I think this team is clearly the best team we’ve ever played because they are the most complete team in all three phases of what they’re doing." … Marshall has played its way among the top winning streaks in FBS – at home and overall. Only Alabama, Auburn, Northern Illinois and Baylor – at 12 – have longer home streaks than Marshall, which stands at 10 with Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon. Only seven teams have longer overall win streaks than the five games by MU – Florida State 20, Oklahoma 8, Mississippi State 7, and Oregon, Texas A&M, Nebraska and UCLA at 6. Joining Marshall with five in a row are Notre Dame, Arizona and Ole Miss … ODU is 30-8 at its Foreman Field home since bringing back football in 2009. That record ranks seventh in FBS in winning percentage (.789) in a current home stadium. Marshall is No. 2 at 138-25 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (.847). At the top of the list is Baylor, which has played only two games – and won both – at its new McLane Stadium.

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