BOGACZYK: Legg Sees ‘Extremely Sound’ Huskies as Big Challenge
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 21, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Bill Legg might still need his corrective lenses, but he doesn’t need to read statistics to see the challenge that Marshall faces in Connecticut’s defense in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
“They’re the best we’ve played in a while,” said Legg, the veteran Herd offensive coordinator, about a Huskies’ defense that was stellar in the AAC – where five of 12 teams rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense – or at least 36 points per game.
It’s been 37 games since Coach Doc Holliday’s Herd (9-3) has faced a defense ranked as high in the FBS as UConn (6-6) stands heading into Saturday’s Tropicana Field 11 a.m. kickoff (ESPN telecast).
UConn ranks 17th (of 128 FBS teams) in scoring defense, allowing 19.8 points per game. The Herd is slightly better (No. 14, 18.4 ppg). In total defense, the Huskies are No. 33 in the FBS (352.3-yard average), and Marshall is No. 48 (372.3).
In Holliday’s six Marshall seasons, the only teams that finished seasons with lower points-per-game numbers than the 2015 Huskies bring to the “The Trop” were West Virginia, Ohio State and UCF in 2010; the Hokies and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl foe FIU in 2011; and Virginia Tech in 2013;
Using FBS season-ending figures, over the last four regular seasons (2012-15) the only scoreboard-stingier defense Marshall has faced was Tech in 2013. Those Hokies were No. 11 in scoring defense (19.3 points) and also No. 4 in total defense (283.2 yards).
Tech downed visiting Marshall, 36-29, in three overtimes on Sept. 21 of that season.
Told those figures and rankings, Legg said, “That doesn’t surprise me, surprises me not at all. It’s probably a valid comparison, even not statistically speaking. It’s what my eyes tell me as I watch film, and in discussion, what (offensive line coach Alex) Mirabal’s eyes tell him, what (receivers coach Mike) Furrey’s eyes tell him, and so on.
“It’s a very good defense, extremely sound even though philosophically a completely different style than Virginia Tech runs. The one common denominator between those two is that they’re going to win by playing really sound fundamentally, disciplined football, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of every call, and playing very physical at all levels – all levels.
“They don’t miss many tackles. They play downhill on things. They don’t try to deceive you a ton. There are some wrinkles, obviously, but their defense isn’t based on deception. It’s based on just taking advantage and understanding what you do as an offense and working the crap out of it -- knowing how to pass things off, whether it’s a combination block up front, or something in the back end, where you’re running this route with the outside guy or this with an inside guy, they’re going to work it so they can pass it off both at the top and to the underneath coverage.
“It’s just really, really smart, good football players, physical.”
The Herd leads the FBS in passes defended per game (7.0), and while most of the talk among Marshall players is about the size and athleticism of the UConn front seven, Legg said no one should overlook a Huskies’ secondary led by cornerback Jamar Summers, who ranks in the top five nationally with seven interceptions.
“They’re a 3-4 concept defense, so I would expect their primary three linemen to be big guys,” said Legg, who will be coaching in the 19th bowl of his playing (former West Virginia center) and coaching career. “The linebackers aren’t covered up, so I’d expect the linebackers to be big, but they’re also very athletic. It’s not just a 250-pound guy playing linebacker or a 300-plus pound guy playing D-line. They have athleticism. They’re also very big and physical on the back end.
“A lot of teams we have played, their corners are playing corner because they’re man-coverage guys. These guys are big, physical guys. They can play man coverage, but they would probably prefer to play zone-pattern read concepts so they can play downhill, get their hands on balls. They’ve done a phenomenal job of getting hands on balls – a lot of true interceptions (17, tied for No. 11 nationally), but then tips that become interceptions because offenses aren’t disciplined enough or patient enough to take what they are giving them.
“They’ll let you throw the ball down all day long -- just come down and knock the hell out of you -- because sooner or later, 99 percent of the people get impatient and try to force something and then all of a sudden they’ve created another possession for their offense.”
If Herd fans want to get a grip on what kind of defensive performance the Huskies have shown this season, they should consider the familiar team in kelly green.
Marshall is tied with Temple and Toledo for the fewest touchdowns allowed (27) among Group of Five conference teams. UConn has allowed one more and is tied at 28 with San Diego State. The St. Petersburg Bowl foes rank among the top five in Group of Five scoring defense, with the Aztecs, 11-win Appalachian State and Temple.
“I think you have to have balance; you can’t be one-dimensional,” Legg said about the Herd offense in Marshall’s first game against an AAC member. “We’ve got to have balance and got to find a way to get a dent in the defense somewhere along the line in the run game.
“We’ve got to have that, but at the same time we’ve got to be able to do some things in a play-action game. If we sit there and think we’re going to be able to drop back and throw it 50 times this game and be successful, we’re probably asking for trouble.”
Legg said he hasn’t had to become a salesman to convince a Herd offense that improved throughout the season that the day-after-Christmas assignment is different than what they’ve seen in Conference USA this season.
“I don’t think you have to tell them a whole lot; they’re smart,” Legg said. “Our kids are pretty smart. They turn the film on; they see what they see. They see a defense that doesn’t give up big plays. They see a defense that plays very physical, a defense that creates a lot of turnovers.
“They see a defense that doesn’t allow the ball to get into the end zone. There are a lot of field goal attempts and not a lot of touchdowns, and so you don’t have to be overly rambunctious to put that in their heads. It’s there for them to see. All you have to do is look.
“The thing I’m preaching to our guys is that fundamentals have to match fundamentals. We have to be fundamentally sound and do a great job in creating balance. We have to OK with a 3-, 4- 5-yard gain and let the game kind of come to us.
“If there is a big play to be had, let’s understand it’s going to come to us, rather than us trying to force it.”