Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and offensive coordinator Bill Legg have learned to expect the unexpected from opposing defenses. Every week, minor wrinkles or a major overhaul is coming.
What, when and how often is what keeps the Thundering Herd offense on its toes. For instance, consider this: Would Houston, the Herd's opponent this week, see the success Alabama-Birmingham had by dropping eight defenders and copy it?
"Anything is possible," Legg said.
Indeed. And when the Cougars take on the Herd at noon Saturday in a bowl-elimination bout at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, they could throw anything and everything at Cato and company. But there are two good bets:
n Houston will blitz, probably more than anybody the Herd has faced;
n Cato will do well to identify No. 42, linebacker Phillip Steward.
Steward has become the bell cow of the Cougars' defense, tying for the Conference USA lead in sacks (nine) and tackles for loss (16) and leading by himself in forced fumbles (five). He is fourth in C-USA with 104 tackles and second on his team with six quarterback hurries and two interceptions.
With standouts Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw moved on, Steward was the bet to lead the defense. And the 6-foot, 223-pound senior from Missouri City, Texas, will do his damage from anywhere.
"He's their adjusting linebacker," Legg said. "What they do with him is moving him all over the place. He could be out in the alley and blitz [look] and play in coverage, he can be out in the alley and sneak in and blitz, and then when they go to their nickel and their dime package, they move him in the box.
"He's a 'Sam' linebacker sometimes, a 'Will' linebacker sometimes, a 'Mike' linebacker sometimes; he's a good athlete. We played against them last year, and he was strictly a stand-up outside linebacker who was on the line of scrimmage.
"The other thing they do, they have a pass rush package where he becomes a defensive end. It's hard to know where he he's going to be from play to play, to be quite honest with you."
With Steward leading the way, Houston has 29 sacks and 23 turnovers gained, both second in Conference USA. But most of the Cougars' defensive stats aren't so shiny.