Oct. 4, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There is an American slang idiom that every football cornerback needs to keep in the forefront of his mind:
Darryl Roberts not only grasps the concept. He says it is vital to a corner's mental health. And with he and his Marshall teammates heading into pass-happy Conference USA play starting Saturday, it's a timely subject.
UTSA (2-3, 1-0), which visits the Herd (2-2, 0-0) for the 2 p.m. Homecoming kickoff at Edwards Stadium, ranks in the top 10 nationally in pass attempts, completions and yardage. The Roadrunners have what first-year MU defensive coordinator Chuck Heater calls "the best offense we've seen ... a really interesting and different scheme."
So, for Roberts and his secondary mates, the pressure will be on to not only play the kind of aggressive man coverage Heater teaches, but also make tackles in the open field on Roadrunner perimeter runs by an offense that veteran UTSA coach Larry Coker describes thusly:
"We're a power team, a zone team and an option team. Sometimes we have to do a little magic here and there."
Roberts said corners have to take the game like the Voice of the Herd, Steve Cotton - play-by-play. Sometimes you get beat, sometimes you don't.
Roberts had one of those "fuggedaboudit" plays in the MU triple-overtime loss at Virginia Tech, which tied the score at 21 with 3:09 left in regulation when Willie Byrn caught a fourth-down, 2-yard scoring pass from Logan Thomas ... that was tipped by Roberts.
"I really couldn't believe it," Roberts said earlier this week. "I made a great break on the ball; I saw the ball. It was wet, but that's still no excuse for him catching it.
"I really don't think about it anymore. As a defensive back, you've got to have tough skin. You've got to forget about plays like that. You just have to move on to the next play then, play ball ... I didn't make the play, he caught the ball. You have to just leave it at that."
For the second straight game, the redshirt junior from Lakeland, Fla., has been named a Herd game captain by coaches. Roberts, out last season as he rehabbed a broken right ankle, has shown why he was missed in 2012.
"He's played really well," Heater said of the player who's nicknamed "Swag." He's just a good football player, a smart player. He's got talent, and he's a pleasant return for us. I heard that about him. His absence was a major loss when he wasn't available, and now he's back and playing really well."
Heater said he isn't worried about any carryover for Roberts on the tipped ball against the Hokies.
"He understands the position," Heater said. "It happens, as good a player as he is. In that situation, it's on your mind, yeah, but you've got to let it go. There are a lot more plays out there, and to get done what we want to get done around here, that will be long forgotten.
"He'll make the next one. If he doesn't make that one, he'll make the next one. He's that kind of player. Move on. There are any number of plays in that game that may have determined that game. But it's like we say, you've got to prepare yourself, so if that moment comes again - and we don't know when that moment is - you increase the likelihood you make that play."
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Roberts knows he could have plenty of opportunities against the Roadrunners, who average 41 passes per game. UTSA quarterback Eric Soza has thrown six interceptions, which ranks in the top 10 in FBS, too.
"It was a good time off (a bye week after the loss at Tech)," said Roberts, who will make his 20th career start Saturday. "We still had to come in and watch film, and I feel like that still put us ahead from preparation standpoint. I felt like it was a good thing to have a bye week then.
"Having that helped us get ahead a whole week on those schemes, and I feel that will help us out Saturday. They're pretty solid offense, a lot different, on the perimeter they like to cut ... a lot of passing plays, a lot of running plays in their arsenal. But if we come out and execute like I know we can, we'll be fine."
Roberts said that - with something like the cornerback play-to-play mindset - the Herd has put its two straight losses after two easy wins in the rearview mirror with league play beginning after the bye-week dividing line.
"We're still trying to stay focused on our goals, because all of our goals are still out there," said Roberts, who ranks second among the Herd with 13 unassisted tackles (nickel Corey Tindal has 14). "We still can be conference champions, still can go to a bowl game.
"We're pretty much still focused on one game at a time, trying to get wins ... and Homecoming is a big game for the fans, everyone around Huntington, even the players. So, we're going to try and come out and get this `W' and not disappoint anybody."
Roberts knows the UTSA attack might be different than anything the Herd defense sees all season. But he said he figures that after facing the Marshall hurry-up offense day-after-day with ones-on-ones in camp and drills, Heater's bunch will be wily enough to deal with the Roadrunners.
"A lot of throwing, that's what we want, the back end of the defense," he said. "We want guys to throw at us in man coverage. Coach Heater is really a technician when it comes to playing man coverage. He wants guys to make tough passes and make tough catches, and that's an advantage for us.
"Since we got together as a group in spring (practice), I personally felt like we've been together. We still feel like there's room to get better. But going against our offense every day, a great offense, if we can hold our own like we did, we can go against anybody's offense."
And in Roberts' rules, it helps to remember to forget.