MCGILL: @HerdFB Among Nation's Best At Avoiding Sacks
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 7, 2017
By Chuck McGill
CHARLOTTE – Marshall has navigated four games and the first month of the college football season, and somehow the number of freshmen playing pivotal roles on the offensive line is still greater than the number of sacks that have been allowed by the same unit.
Yes, folks, a Thundering Herd offensive line that has, at times, featured freshmen Tarik Adams, Alex Mollette and Will Ulmer has only allowed two sacks in four games. That covers 277 offensive plays and 150 pass attempts.
“What are we, fourth in the country in sacks given up?” said Ryan Yurachek, a senior tight end. “You expect that from an offensive line with four or five seniors. You don’t expect that from an offensive line with three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.”
There are three reasons for success for Marshall (3-1, 0-0), which opens Conference USA play Saturday (6 p.m.) at Charlotte (0-5, 0-1 C-USA). MU coach Doc Holliday said one has to distribute credit equally between the coaching staff – play-callers Bill Legg and Todd Goebbel, plus position coach Alex Mirabal – and the line, as well as the quarterback they’re all trying to protect.
“Part of it is Chase (Litton) and his awareness in the pocket,” Holliday said. “A lot of it is Billy and Todd with what we’re doing as far as our play calls are concerned; our play action, moving the pocket and doing some different things to help not only the offensive line, but Chase. It’s a combination of those three things.”
It has been eight quarters and more than 129 minutes since Marshall last allowed a sack. That came on a 3rd-and-8 play when Litton was corralled by North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb. Other than that, Litton has only been sacked early in the third quarter against Miami.
“Alex Mirabal has done a tremendous job developing those young guys,” Holliday said of the offensive line.
Seniors Sandley Jean-Felix and A.J. Addison have each started two games at left tackle, but redshirt freshman Will Ulmer has been a significant contributor there as injuries have piled up. Jordan Dowrey and Alex Mollette have each made starts at left guard, while sophomore center Levi Brown, junior right guard Nate Devers and redshirt freshman right tackle Tarik Adams have made all four starts.
“It’s all about how we practice,” Ulmer said. “Coach Mirabal does a great job making us go as hard as we need to go. We go through situational stuff all of the time, it’s all about having an answer to that.”
Marshall ranks fourth nationally with 0.5 sacks allowed per game. Naturally, teams that are run-oriented are frequently at the top of that list. UCF (94 pass attempts) and Army (30 pass attempts) have yet to allow a sack. Minnesota has allowed one sack in 84 pass attempts. Colorado State has played one more game than the Herd, but has only allowed two sacks in 186 pass attempts.
The line has heaped credit on quarterback Chase Litton, who has displayed a knack for eluding pressure, a willingness to run and the smarts to get rid of the ball quick when under duress.
“I think Chase has done an incredible job this year with avoiding sacks,” Ulmer said. “It’s as much as a credit to him that we only have two sacks this season. He’s got to know when to get rid of the ball and where to be, and if something does break down he has to be mobile and make something happen with his feet sometimes. We love him for that.”
Litton’s center agreed.
“We take a lot of pride in protecting him and keeping him upright,” Brown said. “He’s done a really good job of throwing the ball away instead of taking the sack or avoiding the rush. It’s not all on the offensive line, it’s on the quarterback, too.”
CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!
Litton, a junior, is Marshall’s offensive captain this week. He has been one of the Herd’s most valuable players during a 3-1 start and the coaching staff and players have lauded him for his leadership ability.
“The quarterback, no matter what year you are, no matter what your statistics are, the biggest thing about the quarterback is you’ve got to be a leader,” Yurachek said. “He’s come leaps and bounds as far as leadership goes. Everybody looks to him a lot more than everybody looked to him last year. That’s something that makes our offense go; when you have trust in your quarterback it accumulates around your offense. He’s always had the arm talent; he’s always had all the talent in the world. I think that’s where he’s grown the most, for sure.”
Litton’s head coach sees it the same way, which is why he didn’t hesitate to anoint Litton the captain this week.
“I’m proud of the kid,” Holliday said. “He’s grown so much as a person and a player and that’s a credit to him. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. You can see it with the way he’s handled himself on the field and off the field. He’s doing what quarterbacks should do. He’s got the intangibles to be a great quarterback and it is showing on the field.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK – Ryan Yurachek, Senior, Tight End
“Our confidence is very high right now. We can’t let that get too high. We are only 3-1. We haven’t won a conference game. We haven’t scratched the surface of how good we can be. When you have a different leading receiver in all four games. When you have 10 offensive linemen who have played so far. We’ve come out of non-conference at 3-1. That’s something that gives us momentum going into the rest of the season. It’s exciting to know we have so many different weapons and so many different avenues to go to on the offensive side of the ball.”
FACT OF THE WEEK
The Marshall defense has held its opponent to an average of fewer than 5.0 yards per play three times this season. The Herd is 3-0 in those games and 0-1 when the defense does not achieve that number. As one might guess, that is a good indicator of whether or not Marshall wins. The Herd is 28-2 in its last 30 games when the defense holds the opposing offense to fewer than 5.0 yards per play.
As always, at home or on the road, the Marshall athletic department will provide in-game updates through social media websites Twitter and Facebook. Please follow me on Twitter -- @chuckmcgill or www.twitter.com/chuckmcgill -- and Marshall’s official football account -- @HerdFB or www.twitter.com/HerdFB. Questions are welcome on Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org