Herd hopes to regain swagger on offense today vs. Memphis
HUNTINGTON - Marshall's defensive shortcomings were laid bare once again last week, but it was the Thundering Herd's usually explosive offense that learned a valuable lesson in that 54-17 blitzing by Central Florida.
That is this: A little patience goes a long way, perhaps 600 total yards or so.
The Herd will try to apply that lesson as it goes for a critical bounce-back victory today against Conference USA bottom-feeder Memphis. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the untelevised contest.
Offensive difficulties played just as much a role last week, with dropped passes and missed assignments dooming the Herd to season-low totals in points and total yards. The offense has needed to score big to keep up with opponents this year, and falling behind 27-3 to one of C-USA's better defenses was debilitating.
Don't blame the weather, offensive coordinator Bill Legg says. It was all about playing under control and Legg said he preached the message early and often, right up to kickoff. It didn't sink in.
"Defense is a very emotional side of the ball," Legg said. "They need fire, brimstone, screaming, yelling. Offensively, you can't play that way. You can't. It's like being a NASCAR driver - yes, we want to go fast, but not so fast that we're out of control.
"I used the analogy with them on Sunday, it's like being a surgeon. You've got to find that middle ground where your focus and intensity are high enough that you're locked into the exact thing that you need to do, have good enough energy that you're doing it in the manner you need to do it, but you can't have emotion take over you."
And those offensive players cannot have the must-win nature of the contest consume them. At 3-5, the Herd really must flick away the Tigers (1-7, 1-3), who are still finding their way under their second new head coach in three years.
The MU running game, with the three tailbacks held to a combined 91 yards last week, must be revived. Quarterback Rakeem Cato, who didn't turn the ball over last week but still had his most inefficient game, but regain his edge. The drops must be sharply reduced.
The offense will have to regain its swagger against a revamped Memphis defense that has shown signs of improvement, but regressed in a 44-13 loss last week to Southern Methodist. Even then, the Mustangs didn't bury the Tigers until the fourth quarter, when they scored three touchdowns.
Marshall's oft-struggling defense will try to keep Memphis' oft-struggling offense from awakening. The Tigers barely topped 200 total yards against SMU, and have fumbled 24 times (losing 14 of them) in eight games. That has put the Tigers in the minus column in turnover margin despite quarterback Jacob Karam throwing just two interceptions.
The Herd defense, which gives up 233.5 rushing yards per game, has prepared for a wrinkle-filled attack that leans on several option packages.
"They do a lot of funky stuff, try to get you out of place," MU defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said of the Tigers. "They bring a lot of backside cutters to chop the D-end. We've got to make sure we push the pocket and disrupt things up front so the linebackers and safeties fit and just flow and destroy things."
Plummeting toward their fourth double-digit-loss season in a row, it's tough to gauge the Tigers' will and effort this afternoon. There should be no question how Marshall comes out, as there is much to play for.
A 3-1 finish still means a bowl bid. A 4-0 finish means a 6-2 conference record, a best for the Herd in C-USA. A win carries regained confidence heading into another game against a one-win team (UAB).
In other words, the Herd needs to charge out of the gate like it wanted to last week against UCF, but with better focus.
"Do we need to be energized? Yes," Legg said. "Do we need to be focused? Yes. Do we need to be intense? Yes. But there has to a sense of control."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.