Marshall football: Defense must start communicating
HUNTINGTON - Sometimes the most important things that happen on a football field aren't what's done. It's what's said - or not said.
Is a receiver in motion? Is a formation shifting? If one player stays quiet, that could mean the difference between a big stop or six points. It's something the Marshall football team's defense has dealt with through the first six games of 2012.
Communication issues have been a significant ingredient in the problems the Thundering Herd defense has faced this year, said defensive end Jeremiah Taylor.
He and the Herd hope it gets fixed by 7 p.m. Oct. 20 when the Herd visits Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1 Conference USA).
"It can change the game," he said. "When you have a guy go in motion and doesn't say anything, if they don't communicate that he's coming over, that leaves huge holes in there."
Taylor offered as an example the Herd's 51-41 loss to Purdue. The defense didn't communicate as necessary in the first half. Thus, Marshall's defense allowed four touchdowns, including one on a 41-yard pass and one on a 35-yard pass. That contributed to Marshall's 42-14 halftime deficit, and that doesn't include a 50-yard completion and a 21-yard completion by Purdue in the first quarter that were nullified by penalties.
Then the defense rededicated itself at halftime to speaking up on the field. The Boilermakers scored nine points in the second half and allowed Marshall back into the game.
The Herd's goal for the second half of the season is to be vocal from opening kickoff to final gun. That's easier said than done sometimes, as Marshall's defense has introduced several players to new positions.
Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon moved three safeties to outside linebacker this season - redshirt freshman D.J. Hunter, sophomore Raheem Waiters and sophomore Evan McKelvey, who was lost for the season during the Ohio game after injuring his knee. Redshirt freshman Armonze Daniel moved from linebacker to defensive end. On top of that, redshirt freshman defensive linemen Jarquez Samuel and Steve Dillon are in their first year on the field.
All that newness can lead to a bit of tunnel vision, Rippon said.
"They want to be perfect," he said. "They are great kids. They are into it. They know what they're doing. But when it's on the line, they're going to take care of themselves to make sure they don't hurt the team."
So the less-experienced players will focus more on their immediate tasks - whether they're positioned correctly on the field and what they must do depending on the offense's decisions. As they're focused so intently on what's in front of them, they may miss some of what's going on around them. Or they may see it, but in their inexperience, aren't confident enough to make a call to the rest of the defense.
"Sometimes it's them actually knowing it, but just not feeling comfortable," defensive end Alex Bazzie said.
"So I'll just go to them and say, 'Look, man, you know it. I know you know it.
"When I ask you in the locker room what you've got, you tell me off the top of your head. So it's the same thing on the field.'"
Bazzie said it's easier for the rest of the defense to hear a young player make a wrong call and correct him, rather than be forced to assume that player knows the call, then find out he assumed incorrectly.
"As soon as you see it, don't think too much about it," Bazzie said.
"Just feel confident. If you think you're supposed to be calling this out and you're not sure, go ahead and call it out. If a veteran guy back there has the right answer, they'll correct you. And then everything's correct right before the snap and we're all on the same page. "
Things should improve as players' experience grows, Bazzie said. The more comfortable players feel on the field and around their teammates, the more comfortable they'll feel calling things out to the rest of the defense and correcting others when they're in the wrong spot.
Rippon said that, now that Marshall (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA) has hit its mid-season, there's very little the defense will see the rest of the year that will surprise them.
"There's maybe 10 percent new you're going to see the rest of the season," he said. "We've been through it. We've repped it. We've played it live. We've seen it before and after."
And there have been flashes in those first six games, Bazzie said, where the defense has seen its full potential - the second half at Purdue, the third quarter versus Ohio and holding Tulsa to three points after being forced to defend short fields on its first two drives.
"With our communication, as each game goes, we're becoming better understanding each other as individuals and really talking to each other," he said. "We're becoming much better at that as a unit."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.