Nov. 20, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Whether it has won or lost the coin toss, Marshall has had the first offensive possession in a football game 16 straight times, dating back to last Oct. 29 and a home rout of UAB.
With a hurry-up, productive offense like the Thundering Herd has – ranked No. 7 nationally, at 525 yards per game -- that could be a real advantage. Thus far, the disadvantage has come when Marshall scores and has to kick off to its opponent.
Herd Coach Doc Holliday knows this, and it seems like he’s seen enough from the unit.
“Unfortunately, on special teams, that kickoff is awful right now," Holliday said after Saturday’s 44-41 survival of a late Houston charge. "You get kids hurt and you have new guys going in there, but we have to fix it quick. That has to happen this week."
“To be honest, it’s a crease here, a crease there,” said backup running back Essray Taliaferro, who plays on the MU kick coverage team. “The problem for us has been mostly a lack of control.”
Freshman fullback Devon Johnson, also on that unit, said the main issue with kick coverage boils down to what might be called controlled aggression.
“You’ve just got to hard-hat people,” he said. “The coaches do a great job of teaching us, but it’s up to us to go out and make plays. It’s not about what other teams are or aren’t doing with their schemes. It’s us.
“We get great starts, running lanes, we’re landmarking, and we’re avoiding people. We get down there right at ‘em, and then we run past the ball instead of hard-hatting them, and they go right by us.”
One Herd player on both the kickoff unit and starting defense said it’s about more than tackling.
“We just have to stay disciplined,” Herd rush end Alex Bazzie said. “The coaches are giving us our landmarks, our details, where we have to be, but too many times we’re not using our techniques to get where the ball carrier is, and then when we’re where the ball carrier is, we’re not making the play.
“We just have to continue to fight, run down hard, but don’t run out of control and breakdown. At some point we’ve got to get the ball carrier down, swing your arms at him, do something to trip him up and get him on the floor.”
But Bazzie said the Herd has the talent – even with personnel changes due to late-season dings -- to make more and earlier stops.
“Sometimes on the unit, I feel like we’re too aggressive and we’re over-running the ball instead of using the technique the coaches gave us to get that ball carrier down,” the redshirt junior said. “We’ve put an emphasis on it. You can see we’re putting extra work in (in practice). Hopefully, it will work out.”
Some Herd players said Tulsa ran a different kickoff return scheme against Marshall and had big returns and other C-USA teams have tried similar return routes to success. Bazzie isn’t buying that.
“I wouldn’t call it doing anything different,” said Bazzie, who ranks fourth on the Herd in tackles with 75. “The ball carrier can only go around two ways, left or right, and you’re going to get blocked. There are 11 guys on that field and someone’s going to block you; there’s a man for every guy, so I wouldn’t call it different.
“Sometimes, they’ll switch it up, and it’s up to you to use technique, use what the coaches teach and make a play. There’s nothing like you go out there and you’re completely shocked where you can’t go back to a coach and explain, ‘This is what’s going on,’ and he can’t adjust.
“They’ll go one way and then they didn’t get too much, so this time and at this point of the game they switch it up and take it to the other side because they figure you’ve seen this too many times.”
What the Herd has seen is too many opponents running into Marshall territory with kickoffs.
“We’ve just got to go out and do it,” Johnson said. “Go out and get somebody on the ground.”