MCGILL: Youthful Herd Meets Senior-heavy UTSA in Defensive Battle
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 17, 2017
By Chuck McGill
SAN ANTONIO – In the opening moments of his weekly press conference, Doc Holliday mentioned the experienced starting lineup of Marshall’s penultimate opponent of the regular season.
The Thundering Herd (7-3, 4-2 Conference USA) visits UTSA (5-4, 2-4 C-USA) here at the 36,582-seat Alamodome on Saturday at 7 p.m., and the host Roadrunners have a senior-laden group. UTSA started 12 seniors on the weekend of Nov. 11, more than any other C-USA team that weekend.
Marshall? Well, the Herd started two seniors – both on defense – fewer than any other C-USA team last weekend.
UTSA’s 12 seniors edged out Southern Mississippi, which started 11 seniors last weekend. FIU (10) and UTEP (nine) also were near the top of the league in senior starters.
Not only did Marshall start the fewest seniors last Saturday against WKU – a 30-23 win – but the Herd started a league-leading five freshmen. Rice, which is 1-9 overall and 1-5 in conference play, also started five freshmen last weekend.
Both of Marshall’s numbers are fluid from week to week. Tight end Ryan Yurachek, who has 31 career starts and started the first nine games of this season, did not start against WKU because of the offensive formation. But on the defensive side of the ball, seniors C.J. Reavis and Rodney Allen started in the secondary. Sometimes, the Herd will start freshmen Brandon Drayton and Nazeeh Johnson in the secondary, which could push the number of freshmen starters to seven.
In the win against WKU, Marshall freshmen accounted for the team’s leading rusher (Tyler King), leading receiver (Willie Johnson), and three starting offensive linemen (Tarik Adams, Alex Mollette and Will Ulmer). Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, and freshman linebacker Jaquan Yulee forced a fumble on a kickoff, a turnover that led to more points for the Herd.
Overall, UTSA started 12 seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores and one freshman in its most recent game. That experience will be matched up with visiting Marshall, which started two seniors, nine juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen last week.
THE DEFENSIVE ELITE
Statistically, UTSA and Marshall have the league’s top two defenses.
The Roadrunners are No. 1 in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game allowed. The Herd is second at 19.4 points per game allowed.
UTSA is No. 1 in total defense (293.7 yards per game), No. 2 in rushing defense (130.2) and No. 1 in passing defense (163.4). Marshall is No. 3 in total defense (332.6 yards per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (121.6) and No. 6 in passing defense (211.0).
“They are going to line up a little bit like us,” Holliday said. “They’re going to line up in man free and get up in your face and take away your game and put an extra hat in the box.
“Just look at them athletically,” he added.
A FAMALIAR LOOK
Not only do UTSA and Marshall have the top two defenses in Conference USA, but they are Nos. 1 and 2 in the league in time of possession.
“They’re smart,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “They play to their strength; their strength is their defense. Their defense hasn’t played more than 63 plays anytime this year, which means they’re managing the game. They’re playing to their strength. They run the ball – it looks like a Les Miles, I-formation type of football.”
UTSA is coached by Frank Wilson, who arrived in San Antonio after a six-year run with the LSU Tigers. Wilson was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator from 2010-15, and spent the last four seasons as the associate head coach to Miles. The styles seem similar.
Heater was slightly off on UTSA’s defensive plays this season. The Roadrunners’ defense has never been on the field for more than 67 plays, and in six games this season have played fewer than 60 defensive snaps. UTSA is 5-1 in those games.
Those short shifts – and the offense’s ability to prolong drives – are why UTSA sits atop C-USA in time of possession. The Roadrunners are tied for fourth in the league in first downs per game (21.6), and actually have more first downs than Marshall (216-212) despite playing one fewer game.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Marshall is No. 15 nationally in opponents’ kickoff return yardage (29 returns for 516 yards – 17.79 yards per return). The Herd kickoff coverage unit has also shown a knack for swinging momentum with a forced turnover, as it did last Saturday against WKU.
The kickoff coverage team is must-see entertainment for Yurachek, who makes his way to the 30-yard line when specialist Kaare Vedvik puts boot to ball.
“Nothing juices me up more,” Yurachek said. “If you go back and watch the film … I don’t know if you guys watch it, but our kickoff team is one of the most exciting things to watch; the way they fly down and the way they cause turnovers. They create havoc. I like to watch them go to work every day.”
STAT OF THE WEEK
Marshall’s leading rusher, King, has 136 carries for 662 yards and six touchdowns through eight games. He missed the first two games of the regular season because of an injury he sustained during preseason camp.
That means King is averaging 82.75 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 48 among FBS running backs. Solid, but consider this:
Only four FBS freshmen have more rushing yards than King: Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (1,525 yards), UAB’s Spencer Brown (1,177 yards), Boston College’s A.J. Dillon (1,039 yards) and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (1,038 yards). King is averaging more yards per carry than Dillon (4.87 to 4.70) and has more rushing touchdowns than Dobbins (six to five).
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