Marshall football: Tulsa will bring heavy pressure onto Herd’s Cato
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Tulsa isn't just bringing one of Conference USA's top offenses into Huntington.
When the Golden Hurricane lines up against Marshall at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network telecast), it's also bringing a defense that tops the conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks and tackles for loss.
Tulsa averages 5.2 sacks and 10.6 tackles for loss per game this season. Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said the Hurricane's blitzing ability has made its defense very dangerous.
"About 50 percent of the time they're coming after you in one way or another, whether it is pressure from the edges or the backers," he said. "They do put a lot of pressure on your offense as far as blitzing is concerned. Their defensive guys move around a lot because of the blitz packages they have."
Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg said Tulsa does a great job of hiding when it blitzes. It holds on until the very last second to show when the defense will blitz, sometimes showing it only after the ball is snapped. It's also tough to know how much the defense will blitz in any given game. Sometimes the Golden Hurricane (4-1, 2-0) will blitz every other down, Legg said, and sometimes it might be one in every four downs.
The Thundering Herd (2-3, 1-0) currently allows two sacks per game. Sixth-year guard John Bruhin said the offense must exploit any holes that appear because of the blitz.
"Hopefully the coaches get us dialed in on the right stuff to run and we'll handle it," Bruhin said. "You just try to hit them over the top a couple of time or just run it right at them. Hopefully some holes will open up."
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ON THE SURFACE, it looks like Tulsa buys into the same quick-tempo offensive scheme that Marshall and many other teams do.
The Golden Hurricane averages 83 plays per game. But that full-speed-ahead style isn't what Tulsa runs 100 percent of the time, said Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon.
Rippon feels Tulsa manages tempo better than many college football teams, and increases and decreases the pace to benefit its defense.
"If their defense goes three-and-out, they're going to up-tempo you," Rippon said. "They're going to go fast, they're going to run. If their defense is out there for five, six or seven plays, you're not seeing tempo. You're seeing them get to the line, take some time off the clock and run a play.
"They're managing a game within a structure of that. They're not saying, 'Let's get 150 plays,' and that's a great complement to what they do."
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WHILE RECEIVER Tommy Shuler has become a central focus of Marshall's passing game, senior wideout Aaron Dobson and quarterback Rakeem Cato haven't been able to solidify their downfield connection.
Dobson is second on the team in catches (32) and yards (355). But his yards per catch is down from 13.6 yards per catch last year to 11.1 yards per catch this year and he has only two touchdowns through five games. He caught four touchdowns through five games last year, and finished 2011 with 12 scores.
Holliday said Dobson and Cato have to keep working on it during practice.
"It's not that we don't work on it because we do," he said. "I talk to our guys all the time about competitive excellence. If you do it over and over again in practice then it will happen in games."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.