Marshall football: Offensive line starters go wire-to-wire
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal knows that starting linemen don't like coming out of the game.
So, against Middle Tennessee, they didn't.
The five linemen the Thundering Herd started with against the Blue Raiders were the five Mirabal rode with the entire game. He plans on using that strategy again this week when Marshall (4-3, 2-1 Conference USA) hosts Southern Mississippi (0-7, 0-3 C-USA) at noon Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
Actually, Mirabal said he started sticking with five guys in the second half of the Herd's win over Florida Atlantic and decided to keep it up against MT. The Herd went with right tackle Clint Van Horn, right guard Alex Schooler, center Chris Jasperse, left guard Sebastian Johansson and left tackle Garrett Scott and left them in for 89 snaps over four full quarters. The concept has its benefits, Mirabal said.
"When you get the same five guys out there, they're able to see and communicate consistently," he said. "There's more continuity. They're able to notice the difference in the defensive linemen's stances and all that other stuff. It really helps those guys up front."
As far as the physical toll, Mirabal and the linemen aren't worried. Mirabal considers practice tougher than any game the Herd will play, so when a lineman might work 85 snaps, he'll have worked 150 during any one day in practice.
Scott said the group has been working on its conditioning since before the season began, so if only five linemen play, it won't leave them dragging in the fourth quarter.
"From all the summer workouts we did, we feel like we can run 100 plays and not have to rotate out," Scott said. "We'll be fine. In practice, everybody practices like they're going to play, so it doesn't affect the way we practice. You just know going into the game, you might have to play 100 plays. I know the body will be fine."
WHEN MARSHALL COACH Doc Holliday watches film of the Golden Eagles, he doesn't see any players sulking or trudging the sidelines. Considering Southern Miss is suffering through a 19-game losing streak, energy might not always be easy to generate.
"You can tell about how well they are being coached from watching tape," Holliday said, "because they play hard every down."
The Golden Eagles haven't won a game since Dec. 24, 2011, when they beat Nevada in the Hawai'i Bowl to finish 12-2. This season, only two of their seven losses have come by seven or fewer points. Despite those problems, USM quarterback Nick Mullens agreed that the team's spirit hasn't died, and that's a testament to Head Coach Todd Monken.
"As the leaders go, the team goes, and that's what Coach Monken's doing," Mullens said. "He's being a great leader. He's keeping the energy alive and the grind alive to work for success. We're enjoying the game of football. We might be losing, but we're working to win and we're going to get it eventually."
Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said there were plenty of things to work on after Marshall's last-second loss to Middle Tennessee in a game where the Herd gave up season highs in points (51) and yards (585).
"When the ball gets outside you, bad things happen," he said. "You've got to run-fit the correct way, and I've got to put us in some situations on third down where we're more anticipating situations. A combination of all those things left us on the field too much and they're all things that are fixable."
But sometimes, Heater said, the defensive players and coaches assume the opposition will go one way and then do something completely different. That's what happened on the game-winning touchdown, a nine-yard pass from Logan Kilgore to Tavarres Jefferson.
"I had a coverage that lent itself more to helping the outside guys," he said. "Sometimes you're just guessing, but we should have had better coverage on the guy in the seam. That's where they threw it."
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.