Nov. 7, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Doc Holliday has fuzzily anointed freshman fullback Devon Johnson with the nickname “Blockhead,” but perhaps the Marshall football coach should expand that designation.
The way his Thundering Herd is knocking down kicks, maybe his entire 2012 team should be known as the “Blockheads.”
Marshall’s six blocked kicks in nine games this season rank second nationally, in a tie with Ohio State and Rutgers and one behind Texas. It’s nothing new.
Last season, the Herd blocked seven kicks in 13 games to rank in a tie for third with USC and Boise State, behind Fresno State (10) and Rutgers (9).
When Marshall (4-5, 3-2) goes to Legion Field for Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. (EST) Conference USA kickoff with UAB (2-7, 1-4), the Blazers won’t be surprised when the Herd goes after punts, field goal tries, and extra-point attempts.
“What they do is really go after the kicker and pressure them,” UAB Coach Garrick McGee said Monday. “I’ve said earlier in the season that nobody really blocks punts because nobody really tries to block punts. Marshall tries to block punts.
“You just have to try to keep them off balance. A fake or two will slow them down from going after every punt, and you just have to be really technique sound and know what’s going on. Also, the offense has to keep the ball in good field position.”
Marshall has blocked three point-afters, two punts and a field goal try this season. Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor has two blocks – a Memphis FG try last Saturday and a Purdue PAT. Other blocks are by C.J. Crawford (West Virginia punt), Jermain Kelson (Purdue punt) and Marques Aiken and Deon Meadows (two UCF PATs).
Taylor is playing the same spot on the Herd’s field goal block unit that Vinny Curry
manned last season, when the former Herd star had three blocks.
“It starts in practice,” Taylor said, “and you can tell the character of your team when a field goal comes up. Because even if you’re down by 40, if the guys still show up fiery to get that blocked kick to get that momentum, it matters.
“One thing we really take pride in is blocking kicks and trying to change the game with special teams. That’s what we do.”
Taylor said he picked up kick-blocking technique from Curry, an NFL Draft second-round pick last spring who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“You watch film a lot, and you try to find weak spots in their line,” Taylor said. “You can get it (a block) from force, and then you just try to get your hands up and get a block.”
On Taylor’s side of the line, the Herd has a nose guard and 3 technique (tackle) and him. “Those two are on the guard, and I’m over the tackle and tight end,” he said. “You can go through (a gap) or around the end that way.”
Taylor’s blocks this season have come through the C gap, as he’s knifed between the tackle and tight end.
“On Saturday (against Memphis), I went right through the C gap and jumped up and it hit me right in between the hands,” the Herd junior co-captain said. “It’s the same position Vinny played. You just take a lot of pride in what you do, whether it’s blocking kicks or trying to make a tackle. You’ve got to go full force at it.”
Over the 2011 and ’12 seasons, Marshall’s 13 kick blocks rank second nationally to 15 by Rutgers. Fresno State has 12, Southern Cal 11 and Southern Mississippi 10.
“We practice it ‘live,’” Taylor said when asked about some teams’ simulation of kick blocking by using a football on a string or a pole, rather than trying to get after a boot from a punter or place-kicker. “It’s the best way to get a real feel for how to block it. We’ll go hard for three reps and go live on the edge for three reps. Our 1’s (first string) go Tuesday and the 2’s on Wednesday.
“It’s gotten harder. Our (offensive protection) line has gotten really good, and we’re not getting through there like we were earlier in the season, but we still get one every once in a while.”
UAB’s McGee has a particular concern against the Herd, should the Blazers’ offense get backed up on fourth down.
“The thing that we need to do is make sure we’re not punting from our minus-1-yard line,” he said. “Most of the time, the punter has 14 yards between the snap and the block point, but when you’re punting from your minus-1, that’s only 9 or 10 yards, so you’ve definitely increased the chances of getting the ball blocked.”
Taylor said some of what the Herd has accomplished on kick blocks comes from scheme, some from the fact that Holliday stresses the practice. There is another factor, however.
“Teams have pretty much the same schemes,” the MU defensive end said. “What it comes down to on a field goal is desire and want-to. Our guys take pride in blocking kicks and love to change the momentum.
“We’re getting a lot of push and then you just throw your hands up at the last second, and I think it’s a little bit of both for us. Sometimes we’ll get penetration and get through and knock it down, and sometimes we’ll get great push and our guys jump up and knock it down.
“We’ll do whatever works.”