Up and down scrimmage for Herd defense
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When you see the following highlights from the Thundering Herd's second spring scrimmage, held Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, you might think Marshall's defense is as beleaguered as it was in 2012:
But that wasn't the full story, as the defense finished a spirited, productive fourth week of the spring. The unit intercepted four passes and could have run two or three back for touchdowns, and had 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four pass breakups.
Linebacker Jermaine Holmes proved to be unblockable by the second-string offense. He had 10 tackles and screamed in untouched for a tag "sack."
Even with that 95-yard pass, the defense allowed 546 total yards in 105 scrimmage plays, or about 5 yards per play. That was about what the defense yielded in MU's first scrimmage, and about 2 fewer yards than opponents enjoyed in 2012.
Still, MU coach Doc Holliday's opening kudos went to the offense.
"I thought the offense, for the most part [played well]. They started out with a 17-play drive," he said, exaggerating a bit. "Took it in and scored there with the long field, so that wasn't great [for the defense]. I thought the offense made some plays and moved the ball, and that was good on their part.
"There were some good things on both sides, and that normally happens in a scrimmage."
The Herd continued to showcase its rapid-fire attack, with 12 receivers catching passes and three scoring touchdowns. Those passes set up the occasional big running play, as Butler gained 63 yards on six carries, with two scores.
But the new twist for Big Green donors and season-ticket holders was the blitz package installed this week by defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. The offense has been getting different looks every day, sometimes every play.
"Coach Heater really mixes it up, and has you kind of looking around, which you're not really used to," Blake Frohnapfel said. "I thought Cato and I, and the rest of the quarterbacks, have done a pretty good job of learning from it, finding out where the opening is in the defense."
That gives the Herd offense something to work on this week, from the front to the backs. And those running backs - four of them sophomores - are still learning pass protection.
"I believe that's my weakest point, blitz pickup," Butler said. "I'm getting better at it [but] all of us, that's our weakest point."
Much like last week, the Herd began drives from anywhere, from the offense's 1-yard line to the defense's 12-yard line, with one simulated 2-point conversion. There was a third-down sequence, with distances from 1 to 10 yards to go.
The offense rang up 31 first downs but was stopped on 16 series, either by those five turnovers or key plays on third down.
Cato, who was scaled back a bit, went 14 of 21 for 150 yards while Blake Frohnapfel went 15 of 22 yards for 220 yards and a TD, with two interceptions. The latter yardage figure was inflated by that 95-yard throw to Alston.
"He's had a good spring. He needs to," Holliday said of Alston. "He's been here three years and it's time for him to start being a player. He's become a little more consistent catching the ball.
"We know Tommy Shuler can go play. We need to see [DeAndre] Reaves and Alston; we need to find out about the other guys, see if we can trust them in a game when we open up in the fall."
Blake Frohnapfel received several snaps with the first unit, and Holcombe struggled some in his time with the second unit. He completed just eight of his 17 passes for 78 yards, scoring two touchdowns but throwing two to the defense.
That's pretty much why the redshirt freshman is the No. 3 man behind center.
"Gunnar's got to learn to take care of the ball a little better," Holliday said. "He's a young guy that's learning, but he's got the physical skills."
Marshall has three practices left - a heavy day Tuesday afternoon, a lighter afternoon in shorts on Thursday and the Green-White Game on Saturday. Kickoff - OK, the first whistle - for the game is 2 p.m.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Holmes 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack; Houston 9 tackles; Hunter 5 tackles; Tindal 5 tackles; Dillon 5 tackles, 2 TFL, sack; Baxter 4 tackles, 2 TFL, sack, 2 pass breakups; Massaquoi 4 tackles, 1.5 TFL, sack; Mitchell 3 tackles, 1.5 TFL, sack; Samuels 3 tackles, interception; Leggett 2 tackles, interception; Wilson 2 tackles, interception; Samuel 1 tackle, forced fumble; Lovett interception. Totals 4 interceptions, 7 sacks, 12 TFLs, 4 pass breakups.