BOGACZYK: Blitzin' Bulldogs Bring Herd a Challenge
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 2, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The sounds of the football postseason?
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and … Marshall knows Louisiana Tech will be blitzin’ in Saturday’s Conference USA Championship Game.
That’s courtesy of Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, whose unit back on Nov. 1 went after Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty … and the result was a 59-10 Tech victory that was as stunning as WKU’s 67-66 overtime upset of an unbeaten, nationally ranked Herd last week.
Now, Marshall (11-1, 7-1) figures it will have to deal with the Bulldogs (8-4, 7-1) and their pressure in Saturday’s noon C-USA title game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Tech has 16 players with at least one sack this season and 24 with at least one tackle for loss.
The Herd is going to have to protect quarterback Rakeem Cato from all angles.
You’ve heard the phrase "blitz package?" Diaz has more packages to deliver than Santa Claus.
"I think everybody on their defense has a sack when you look at the stats," Marshall senior center Chris Jasperse said. "They bring ‘em from everywhere, and we’ll have to do a good job of figuring it out and communicate to everybody, ‘Hey, this is what’s coming.’
"And they do a good job hiding it too, show us one side and bring it from the other side, so we have to keep our eyes up and feet on the ground, and we’ll be fine."
Herd senior tight end Eric Frohnapfel, after watching some Tech tape in preparation for the Herd’s second straight C-USA title game, almost couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
"Their defense is extremely aggressive," Frohnapfel said of the Bulldogs. "They blitz almost every play, which is unheard of. You really don’t see it a lot.
"Against Old Dominion (Tech’s only league loss, 30-27 in overtime), they were running a lot of zero blitz, which means they’re blitzing seven guys, which is very rare to see. They’re just very aggressive."
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday worked with Diaz when the two were on the North Carolina State staff together a decade ago. He said Diaz "is different now," but indicated Tech’s pressure might be the major factor the Herd will have to cope with on Saturday.
"You are talking over 53 percent of the time on all downs," Holliday said when asked at his Tuesday press conference if he’d coaches against a team that used the blitz as much as LaTech. "It is not like a third-down blitz situation; (Diaz) is going to come after you regardless.
"He is very aggressive at what he does. They are schemed extremely well. They do a great job at disguising those particular blitzes. We have to do a good job at being able to pick those things up and get hats on the right people, in the run game and the pass game. They are going to have to make adjustments on the run, with upfront ID and the points."
It’s a situation where Holliday is glad to have four-year starters like Jasperse and quarterback Rakeem Cato in the zone-read option attack, and the Herd coach said his team ability to establish a ground game could be crucial.
"To have two experienced guys in there, Jasperse at center and Cato at quarterback, it will help us," Holliday said. "We have to be able to do both (run and pass). For the most part this year we have. We can’t become one-dimensional. We have to be able to do both like we have all year. It will be critical that we do that again on Saturday.
"(Diaz) does it all. We get out-numbered most of the time when they bring zero blitz, which they do. One thing about Manny … they have every blitz known to man. He has fire zones, where they are bringing five-, six-man blitzes, playing straight man, free coverage, and he plays zero coverage, which brings in one more than we are going to have.
"He does it all and does it all well."
That pressure at the line of scrimmage has yielded results at the back end. Coach Skip Holtz’s team has 36 takeaways, which leads major-college football. The Bulldogs’ 24 interceptions rank second to Louisville, with 25.
Diaz’s defense has four players with multiple interception games this season. Nine Bulldogs have a pick, and only ACC finalist Georgia Tech has more (10) in the FBS.
In its dominating win over WKU five weeks ago, Tech had 10 tackles for loss and rushed Doughty into a 16-of-39 passing day, with four interceptions. He was sacked three times. Tech had four hurries and eight pass breakups.
"Manny’s done a tremendous job with that defense," Holliday said of the coordinator who is finishing his first season at LaTech. "They are very aggressive. They cause a lot of negative plays (96 tackles for loss rank No. 6 nationally, and seven more than the Herd). They get after you.
"They create a lot of turnovers. So, it is going to be critical this week that we have great preparation because we are preparing for a football team that is going to be extremely physical and well-coached.
"We are excited that the game is here. We know our fan base and students are going to show up and have a great time on Saturday."
It’s not like the Herd doesn’t know what’s coming. It’s just where … and when.
"They played a lot of odd (three-man front) early and played a lot of four-down lately, so we don’t know what we’re going to get," Jasperse said. "But we’ve seen all that, and we’ve got to be prepared. Up front, we’ve just got to communicate and execute, and that’s the thing we do.
"The last couple of teams we’ve played went odd and even, and we’ve done a good job just talking it out, and guys will listen. It’s important to not just hear me (on calls) but actually understand what I’m saying.
"From what they show on film, absolutely (the Herd is expecting plenty of blitzing). Some teams have played us different. I don’t know what they’re going to come in doing, but I’d expect them to try to get after us up front."