First start a success for Herd's Samuel
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - For Jarquez Samuel's first start in his 14-game career at Marshall, you've got to give him a hand.
Or two hands. Fundamentally trained and ready for a defensive tackle's use.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound native of Valdosta, Ga., was pressed into duty last weekend against Ohio, and the sophomore's performance probably was the most positive story in the Herd's 34-31 loss to the Bobcats. A more positive team result could have gotten Samuel player of the week honors.
You doubt that? Well, quite a few coaches are wracking their brain trying to remember when a nose tackle got in on nine tackles. The Bobcats aimed their running attack right at Samuel and he shook off blockers more times than not.
With Brandon Sparrow out with an ankle injury, the Herd essentially had three seasoned tackles and needed Samuel. Steve Dillon usually backs up James Rouse at the "three-technique" tackle spot and, yes, he got his snaps.
But for Samuel, it was showtime, and he showed a glimpse of brilliance.
"He earned it," said assistant coach J.C. Price, who tutors tackles. "I keep pressing upon these guys that you've got to play like you practice, and that guy had an outstanding week of practice, and it translated into the game.
"Tackles, especially a nose, you're often not going to be in the position where you make that many tackles. It just happened his number was called and he made the plays he was supposed to, within the framework of the defense."
Almost certainly, Samuel gets the call again for the Thundering Herd's manly test against Virginia Tech. Kickoff Saturday is at noon, with ESPU providing the TV coverage.
Samuel sported a grin when talking about his first start, and the work involved in getting to that point. He's become solid in the weight room, certainly, but young tackles have to learn there's much more to that in shaking off a large, hard-charging blocker. For all the brawn needed, the hands are the starting point.
In high school play, major-college prospects usually don't need great hands - they can blow up the blocker and move on to the ball carrier.
"That's the biggest thing [using hands] we work on in practice," Samuel said. "We hit the bags, we hit the sled, punch each other, just use our hands. If you can use your hands you can separate, and that helps you a lot."
And yes, that's a big part of it, Price confirmed, but not everything.
"Number one thing is learning how to play with your hands, and that's 1-A. And 1-B will be learning that the gaps move," he said. "The gaps aren't just 'X' on the field. The young guy, those gaps are moving quick in there sometimes.
"The 'A' gap is the space between the guard and the center, and it may be on the hash to start the play but it may be in the middle of the field during the play, and that's when they get lost in the shuffle and they look in the backfield, and then they lose track of the gap."
Samuel and his cohorts didn't lose track of much, as they held Ohio to 60 yards rushing. A year after struggling against everything and everybody, the Herd defense is sixth in the nation in rushing defense, averaging 67.0 yards against.
"Him and Rouse, and Steve Dillon, the three guys that played, I thought they did a really good job of controlling the inside rush lanes, the inside 'A' and 'B' gaps, and the run game," Price said.
Price is an old Hokie, a four-year letterman, All-Big East selection and third-team All-American. Before coming to Marshall in 2012, he coached with James Madison in a 21-16 loss in 2010 at Tech.
He served as graduate assistant at Tech in 2002-03, the first years of the south-end addition to Lane Stadium. That enclosed that end of the stadium, helping to make it one of the louder places in college football.
"When I first down there, there was some wooden bleachers [in the south end]," Price said. "Things have definitely changed. There's a great visitors' locker room; it will be my second trip in there. We're definitely looking forward to the challenge - it's just a great college football venue."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.