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MCGILL: @HerdFB Defense 'In a Groove' Now

Oct. 13, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The defensive numbers Marshall has put up through five games are eye-opening and impressive.

Zero touchdowns allowed in the first quarter this season. Three consecutive games with a first half shutout. Tops in Conference USA in scoring defense.

The Thundering Herd (4-1, 1-0 C-USA) is playing sound, fundamental, defensive football as the team readies for its league home opener Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN3) against Old Dominion (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) on Homecoming Weekend.

“We shoot for single digits missed tackles every week,” defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “We feel like that is a measurement of how well you’re playing defense. We’ve hit it every week.”

Marshall, winners of three straight, has outscored the opposition 31-6 in the first quarter through five games (two field goals and zero touchdowns). Over the last three games – Kent State, at Cincinnati and at Charlotte – the Herd has outscored opponents 38-0 in the first half. MU is allowing 17.4 points per game, No. 1 in the league.

That kind of defensive performance gives Marshall increasing confidence with seven regular season games left to play.

“I trust our offense completely and our defense completely,” said Blake Keller, the only senior defensive starter. “We play great team football. We know if we’re struggling (the offense will) pick us up, and if they’re struggling we’ll pick them up.

“I feel like the defense is in a groove and we have to practice hard all week to keep that up. The reason we’re in such a groove is the way we practice, the way that we prepare on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”

Marshall has allowed fewer than 5.0 yards per play in four of five games. MU is 4-0 when the defense keeps the opposition below that number, and 0-1 when it does not. In the past three games, the Herd defense has become even more stingy. Kent State managed 259 yards on 61 plays; Cincinnati gained 349 yards on 71 plays; Charlotte’s offense only managed 52 plays and barely cracked 200 yards of total offense (212).

Last week, the Marshall defense ranked in the top five nationally in fewest first downs allowed (9) and fewest yards allowed. To their credit, the Herd defense does not pay attention to those figures.

“We go out on the field and we don’t really look at the scores or look at the yards,” Keller said. “We try to do our job and at the end of the day hope we get results like that.”

Sophomore defensive back Chris Jackson, who ranks in the top 10 nationally with three interceptions, agrees with the senior defensive end.

“Every game right now is validation for the work we’ve put in, but there is a lot of hard work to do and we have to continue to get better,” Jackson said. “We have left plays out there.

“When you know you can do something you’re going in there every week again to do it. That’s a great feeling. We’re coming in Saturday and we’ll try to do the same thing. We don’t think about the stats at the half or at the end of each quarter, we just think about the overall win.”


During Marshall’s three-game winning streak, it has dominated time of possession. The Herd has held the ball more than its opponents in nine of the last 12 quarters – three in each of those games. The numbers become especially staggering in the second and fourth quarters, which is good news for the good guys.

“If you can keep that defense off the field and dominate the time of possession, then you have an excellent chance at winning the football game,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.

Marshall has held the ball for 8:03, 11:59 and 10:24 in the second quarter of the last three games. The Herd has possessed the ball for 9:44, 9:13 and 11:11 in the last three fourth quarters, so the defense is dominating and the offense is running the ball and churning the clock.


Each week Holliday makes the prediction of a major upset in college football, and each week he is proven correct.

That is not news, necessarily, but Holliday wants to remind his team to not overlook the opposition. Old Dominion enters Saturday’s game on the wrong end of three consecutive losses of at least 30 points.

“Preparation is so important for every game you play,” Holliday said. “If you look around the country at some of the things that happened this past weekend. Iowa State, with a third string quarterback who hadn’t practiced all spring, goes and beats a 30-point favorite Oklahoma. At the end of the day, it’s all about preparation and showing up ready to play for every game you play. If you do that you have a chance. If you don’t do that you have no chance.”


Junior quarterback Chase Litton has been at his best when the offense is in peril. In third (or fourth) down situations of at least 9 yards, Litton is 13 of 21 passing for 245 yards and no interceptions this season. He has also carried twice in those situations for 24 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging 11.7 yards per attempt in third (or fourth) down situations of 9-plus yards.


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 – and Marshall’s official football account – @HerdFB Questions are welcome on Twitter or by emailing