HUNTINGTON - At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Marshall coach Doc Holliday paid high compliments to Purdue's defense.
Higher compliments, certainly, than to his own.
"I'm not going to sit there and tell you I'm happy with our defense; I'm not," Holliday said after his gave up 647 total yards at Rice. "We have to get better in that area, and we're going to work extremely hard to get that done."
While Marshall's defense is a work in progress - or a work in search of progress - Purdue's defense is putting up solid numbers.
The Boilermakers (2-1) are in the top 25 in five categories: total defense (17th, 294.67), scoring defense (12th, 14.00), rushing defense (25th, 110.33), pass efficiency defense (12th, 95.27 rating) and sacks (19th, 3.0). One caveat: Two-thirds of those stats were aided by runaway wins over Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan.
Then again, Purdue's defense also played Notre Dame, then ranked 22nd, and played well enough to win. The Boilermakers held the Fighting Irish to 52 rushing yards, forcing them to throw for 324 yards and rally for a winning field goal in the final seconds.
It will take a more Herculean effort for Rakeem Cato and the Thundering Herd to match their gaudy numbers after four games.
"In their front four, there are probably a couple of guys who are going to be first- or second-round draft picks," Holliday said. "They've got an inside guy that is named [Kawann] Short who is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, is an excellent player. And then [Bruce] Gaston, the other inside guy, is 295. They've got an end, 99 [Ryan Russell], who is 6-foot-5, 275 pounds.
"The entire front four can play for anybody, and it's a talented bunch."
Which puts an added onus on the offensive line, which eventually plowed over a weary, outmatched Rice defensive line last week. But it isn't all about the offensive line, as both coaches discussed on Tuesday.
The Marshall offense continues to not only lead the nation in passing yardage (383.5), but in total plays (371, averaging 92.7). The hyper-tempo offense can fatigue a defensive line and a quick passing game helps keep your quarterback upright. It might even open up the running game, to some extent.
"We can do a lot of things with our offense that we don't need to block the front guys as long," Holliday said. "We have some things in our offense now that can allow Cato to get the ball out of his hands quick. We have the ability to run the ball if they give it to us. We have the screen game to where we don't have to block those guys as long.