Marshall football: Taylor says defense has grown
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor would love to see his coaches take the handcuffs off the offense and defense and give Saturday's Green-White spring football game more of a regular-game feel.
"I'm hoping they let us go and let us play a little bit," he said.
Taylor will get his wish - kind of - when the team takes the Joan C. Edwards Stadium field at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The starting offense and defense will go at it for the first two quarters Saturday, the final in-pads practice for the Thundering Herd until August and the last chance for players to impress coaches under full-contact conditions until then.
"I think we've gotten about as much as we can get out of the 14 days (of spring practice) to this point," Coach Doc Holliday said. "We only have 15 and with 13 of them being padded, you can't waste one of them. We've got to come out here Saturday, take care of business and walk out of here a better football team. It has to happen with the amount of practices we have."
The green-clad offense and white-clad defense will go toe-to-toe for the first two quarters with the game clock running normally. A scoring system is in place in both offensive and defensive categories.
The offense can score with first downs, plays over 20 yards and touchdowns. The defense can earn points with forced turnovers, forced punts, sacks, tackles for loss and defensive scores.
The offense and defense entered the spring with different missions.
The defense, under new coordinator Chuck Heater and an almost entirely new staff, was trying to rebound from a dismal 2012 and learn a new system.
The offense, with coordinator Bill Legg still at the helm but a lot of new assistants under him, was trying to evolve its scheme, yet maintain the explosiveness that made it one of the most dangerous groups in college football.
Taylor, a rising senior, said the defense has grown a great deal under Heater's tutelage.
After an initial getting-to-know-you phase, the unit has settled down and Taylor feels it will give the offense a run for its money on Saturday.
"Starting off, we struggled a little bit," Taylor said. "We had new coaches, new techniques. We had to learn to lingo and new language. As we progressed through practice, it seemed like the defense, everyone was out there having fun, that's the main thing.
"Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and as practice progressed, we were all out there competing."
Fun, Taylor added, was a key word for the spring. There was little of that to be found in 2012's defense. The Herd allowed 43.08 points per game, and only Colorado allowed more in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The defensive staff has stressed high energy and passion, and the players have shown it in their celebrations of big plays this spring.
"As seniors, this is our last go-around," Taylor said. "If we get everyone into it and everyone bought in and on the same page, that's what you need. If we have that and have guys flying around and having fun, being on the same page, it's going to be hard to stop us. We've got some talent around here. If we keep doing what we're doing, the sky's the limit for us."
The offense threw for more yards than anyone in the FBS last season and only six teams averaged more than the Herd's 40.92 points per game. But Holliday said when spring began that he'd like to see the group excel in different tempos, to be able to slow things down and grind out a yard or two on third and short when necessary.
Offensive lineman Garrett Scott said the defense's learning new schemes has allowed the offense to work at a slower pace at times, and Scott thinks the unit has done well with it.
"With our defense putting in their new packages, we had to run our offense a little slower," said Scott, a rising senior, "so I think we've been doing a really good job in not tempo-ing ourselves out of the game. We've been doing a good job in that we can run any type of tempo and we'll be fine. We can go out and execute our offense."
The West, Annex and Softball parking lots open at 9 a.m. Saturday at $20 per space. The Gate A ticket office opens at 10 a.m. for the Choose Your Seat program and a 12:30 p.m. for the general public. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Marshall students without a ticket prior to the game can show a valid university ID.
An untimed series of situational plays will go on after that first half is over. It's not Taylor's full wish, but he said that won't sap the players' intensity.
"Even if it is scripted, we still have to go out there and do what we're supposed to do," Taylor said, "go out and play ball and have fun."
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.