Oct. 3, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The Doc really doesn’t have a prescription to heal what ails Marshall’s defense.
Well, he does – and it’s one of the things he does best. It’s called recruiting. However, that’s not one of those “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” deals.
He said it’s just going to take time to find a cure. Besides, he said it seems to be widespread, perhaps even a college football epidemic.
Just as you can’t manufacture speed, you can’t flip redshirt freshmen into juniors overnight.
“I’m not making excuses,” Thundering Herd Coach Doc Holliday. “It’s just the facts.”
Holliday may have sounded like Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday, but he said he doesn’t need to investigate why, with Tulsa (4-1, 2-0) coming to Edwards Stadium on Saturday for Marshall’s 111th Homecoming, the Herd ranks among the bottom teams nationally in defense.
In fact, Marshall (2-3, 1-0) has made some of that same mayhem that is plaguing the Herd’s defense.
“Tempo creates issues for a lot of defenses,” Holliday said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I like where we are right now offensively, because what we’re doing can take advantage of defenses.”
While Marshall tops major college football in running 462 plays, it also leads when it doesn’t have the ball, as opposing offenses have kept the Herd defense on the field for 419 plays.
Holliday takes a bit of solace in that his team isn’t alone, not to mention the fact that the Herd’s three defeats have come to unbeatens West Virginia and Ohio and 3-1 Purdue.
“Coming out of (the loss at Purdue), what we try to do is take the positives out of it, to carry over to this week,” he said. “We held Purdue to less than 3 yards per rush. Purdue was running the ball pretty well to that point, and is a Big Ten team …
“They’re big up front and have good players. So, I thought the defense in the second half did make strides, but we have to build on that, but we have to get better because it will be a great challenge this week.”
Holliday’s defensive depth chart isn’t sprinkled or dotted, but dominated, by players who just haven’t been in coordinator Chris Rippon’s system much.
Boston College transfer safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwa Okoroha may be graduate students, but they’re first-year Herd players. Others like Alex Bazzie, D.J. Hunter, Keith Baxter, Raheem Waiters, Steve Dillon and Jarquez Samuel haven’t played much – if at all – at their positions before this season.
A day earlier in interviews, some of the defensive players said their communication was better at Purdue. Holliday said that mattered, but wants more … while couching his remarks by using a Texas-sized example.
“On defense, the key is to get you tails lined up in the right place and just go play,” Holliday said. “I’ve said all along if you’re thinking and not playing on defense, you’re not going to be very good. You’ve got to get lined up and go play and play hard. It’s a matter of starting to feel comfortable and getting their feet under ‘em.”
The Herd does have plenty of company, too.
“I look around the country today and Texas has as many good players as anybody in America on defense, and you look up all of a sudden and Oklahoma State with a backup quarterback scores 38 (last Saturday, Texas 41-36),” Holliday said. “Don’t tell me West Virginia and Baylor don’t have some pretty decent defensive players, and it’s 70-63.
“What’s happening in college football today is just amazing to me. I mean, (Marshall’s) Tommy Shuler, against a Big Ten team that’s picked to maybe play for a (conference) championship, has 19 catches for 200 yards because they don’t have players to match up with him. With those three- and four-wide sets at times, it creates issues.
“I think everybody is going through some growing pains, defensively, around the country, trying to match up with what’s going on with the offenses, and you’ve got to catch up quick. I still believe in my heart that the key to winning championships is playing great defense … I said in our (last week’s) press conference I think you’re going to see the Alabamas, other people in the world that play great defense, playing for (national) championships.
“We have to get to the point where we are (improved on defense), and we’re working hard to get there, but we’re not there yet … We have to get better, and that’s one of the reasons we’re trying to get more athletic defensively, so we can match up in our league. A lot of four- and five wides, empties (backfields), lot of things we’re getting creates problems for people. So, we’re working extremely hard to get to that ,,, Texas has the athletes, and we’re not Texas, not even close.”
“We’ve got to put kids in position to make plays, and we’re doing that, and when you’re in position to make a play, you’ve got to make it.”
Holliday used last season’s Conference USA title game as another example. After No. 7 Houston came into the contest – at home, and unbeaten – averaging more than 600 yards per game, Southern Mississippi pulled the upset.
“Because Southern Miss played better defense,” Holliday said.
The Herd is now one of those Houstons, at least five games into the season, as quarterback Rakeem Cato leads the nation with 1,920 passing yards and the Herd is averaging 555.6, ranked sixth in the country.
But Holliday says what matters most in challenging defenses – his or the other 123 FBS teams – is not about the run or the pass. It’s tempo.
“Getting the ball snapped is what’s creating a lot of problems for defenses,” Holliday said, “and it’s helped us offensively. Look at where we are offensively. I’m happy with everything except we’ve got to take care of the football (and avoid turnovers).
“Third-down conversions, fourth-down conversions, scoring in the red zone … You look at all of our statistics and we’re where we want to be offensively, but we’ve got to take care of the football and get better in some other areas, and we’ll be fine. Tempo creates issues for a lot of defenses.”
Tulsa is tied for fifth nationally (with UCLA) with 415 plays per game. So, don’t expect the pace of play to change significantly with change of possession when the Golden Hurricane blows into town Saturday.
Holliday will hold onto his hat, it seems.
“It’s crazy what’s happening out there,” said Holliday, who’s early into his fourth decade coaching major college football. “It’s almost coming down to who has the ball last, so to speak. I still believe got to play great defense to win championships.
“What you’ve got to do is have a lot of athletes out there so you can play press man and get after the quarterback a little bit so they can’t get it out of their hands. But what happens to you right now is if you play press man and, for example, Purdue’s got a kid that can’t cover Shuler in man out there and he gets 19 catches for 200 yards …
“Getting the number of athletes you have to have, and getting a couple of great pass rushers in there where you can get great pressure on the quarterback is what you have to get to. And we’re just not there yet.”