Marshall football: Defensive line depth makes a difference for Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor figures he played about 25 snaps in the Thundering Herd's 55-0 win last Saturday over Gardner-Webb. That total hadn't been that low, he said, since he was a freshman playing behind current Philadelphia Eagle Vinny Curry.
It's not because Taylor's reverted back to his freshman form. He had two tackles, a sack and a pass breakup against the Runnin' Bulldogs. It's because the Herd rotated in three full defensive lines - two tackles and two ends - during the game. That's a luxury the Herd didn't have in previous seasons and one it hopes to maintain when Marshall visits Ohio this Saturday for another "Battle for the Bell" (8 p.m., ESPNews).
"Our big thing was to develop the young guys," Taylor said, "so when the older guys would come out, there would be no drop-off. I feel like up until now, we've done a great job with that and hopefully, Saturday, we can go in and keep that rolling."
Taylor and Alex Bazzie started at defensive end for the Herd last Saturday, with Brandon Sparrow and Steve Dillon starting at defensive tackles. Marshall also found playing time for James Rouse, Armonze Daniel, Ra'Shawde Myers, Gary Thompson, Joe Massaquoi, Arnold Blackmon, Jarquez Samuel and Josh Brown. All 12 of the linemen showed up on the defensive statistics after the game.
Five of those linemen - Brown, Thompson, Rouse, Taylor and Blackmon - all recorded at least half a sack. Bazzie forced and recovered a fumble and Thompson recovered another. Brown and Thompson, despite coming in later in the game against Gardner-Webb, tied for the team lead in tackles with six each.
The defensive line depth has played no small part in the revitalization of the Herd defense overall. Marshall is tied with the University of Central Florida for seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 211.5 yards allowed per game. It's tied for ninth with Duke and Louisville with an average of seven points allowed per game.
"To be part of this defense this year is pretty good," Thompson said. "I'm going out there and they're expecting me to do stuff. I'm going out there and making plays I know I can make. I'm just glad to be a part of this team."
The most important part of the rotation, Holliday said, is the reduced number of snaps each lineman has played. He said the most snaps any lineman got against Gardner-Webb was in the 20s, while the top total against Miami was in the 30s. That strategy should come in handy, especially this Saturday, when the Herd faces a grinding Ohio offense that rushed 40 times for 203 yards in an win over North Texas.
"The problem you get into as a football team as the season goes along, when you have guys playing 70 or 80 plays a game, you get nicked up and by the end of the year, you're looking for people," Holliday said. "If you can continue rotating those guys in there, number one, it helps them stay healthy and it helps them stay fresh. If you go into the game knowing you're going to play 30 or 40 snaps, you'd better be able to play extremely hard for those 30 or 40 snaps."
It's not just a physical relief for the defensive line, Taylor said. It's a mental one, too. They have confidence that, when one group heads to the sideline, the next one in will be able to go full speed and remain effective.
It also helps when injuries crop up, like it did for Marshall when Sparrow sprained his ankle against Gardner-Webb. In previous seasons, that might have been a catastrophe. It's still puts a dent in the lineup, but it might not blow a hole in it.
"It helps out tremendously," Taylor said. "It's all the difference. This game is a game of inches. If you're able to go harder for less snaps, you'll be more productive. Having those other guys come in just puts more fuel in the fire. It allows us to go even faster."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.