Marshall football: Herd looks to improve pass rush
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It's frustrating to the Marshall defense to look at the statistic sheets and see just three sacks in the Thundering Herd's first four games.
But it's nowhere near as frustrating as trying to collect those sacks and coming up empty.
"You're working hard and fighting, trying to get back there," defensive end Alex Bazzie said. "You're not getting (the quarterback) on the ground. He finds a way out. He escapes."
The Herd (2-2, 1-0 Conference USA) will try to improve its pass rush this Saturday when it visits Purdue for its final non-conference game, a 3:15 p.m. kickoff on the Big Ten Network.
What the defense sees this weekend out of the Boilermakers (2-1) might help build upon those meager sack totals.
Marshall is tied with five other teams for 110th out of 120 FBS teams in sacks collected, and only five teams in that 120 have recorded fewer.
That's a big difference from last year, when the Herd finished tied with six other teams for 47th in sacks, recording 27 in 13 games.
There are a couple of things that could factor into that drop in production. First, the Herd no longer has 2011 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Vinny Curry at defensive end. Not only did Curry, a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, lead Marshall with 11 sacks, he commanded the double and triple teams that allowed his teammates to attack the quarterback.
And it also might be who the Herd has faced in this season's first four games. West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith, while primarily a passer, is mobile enough to escape pressure.
The other three quarterbacks Marshall has faced - Western Carolina's Eddie Sullivan, Ohio's Tyler Tettleton and Rice's Taylor McHargue - are known for their running ability.
None of those three rushed for fewer than 35 yards against Marshall, and McHargue gained 153 yards on the ground.
"We'd like better sack numbers, but guys had happy feet, just ran around and got out of there," defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said. "We haven't played that drop-back, read-where-he's-going guy."
That should change this week when Marshall faces Purdue's Caleb TerBush. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound fifth-year quarterback has gained just 33 yards on 12 carries in the two games he's played this season. TerBush was suspended for Purdue's season opener versus Eastern Kentucky.
"Running's not his first option, but he has the ability to do so," Taylor said. "When we do get the opportunity to pass rush, we have to be dead on and use our speed to get around those big linemen."
After lining up against a string of dual-threat quarterbacks, Bazzie said it might take a little getting used to a more traditional quarterback.
"You get shocked when you see someone sit in there," Bazzie said. "You're so used to the quarterback where it's three steps and it's out or it's two quick reads and he's running. That's going to be a shocker, but it's something we're going to have to get ready for."
The Herd's defense might also be more effective if it better uses its counter moves on its pass rushes, Taylor said. When the ball is snapped, pass rushers have an initial move to try and get past an offensive lineman. When the lineman tries to shut that move down, the defender usually has a move to counter that. That counter move sometimes sends the rusher to the inside, and with dual-threat quarterbacks, Taylor said the risk of breaking contain is too much to give those quarterbacks an opening to the perimeter.
"I think if we use our counter moves, we'll be better off," Taylor said. "We had it just implanted our minds that we can't let them outside. That's probably where we'll have to make our money, in counter moves."
Purdue's starting offensive linemen weigh an average of more than 305 pounds, so Herd defenders will need to capitalize on their speed. Still, Bazzie said, there will come a time where, to reach the quarterback, they'll have to go through and not around those linemen.
"I still feel sometime in that game, it's going to come down to the point where you can't run around them," Bazzie said. "You've got to take it head on and get nasty. There's going to be a point in time where everyone's going to have to look their man in the eye and say it's mano y mano."
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TWO HERD PLAYERS, punter Tyler Williams and running back Kevin Grooms were honored by different outlets as Conference USA players of the week following Marshall's win over Rice. Williams was named special teams player of the week by the conference's media, while Grooms was named offensive player of the week by CollegeSportsMadness.com.
Williams averaged 50.8 yards on five punts against the Owls, putting three punts inside the Rice 20-yard line and blasting a 66-yarder. Grooms rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry, while catching another five-yard touchdown pass. His third rushing touchdown was the game winner.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.