Marshall football: Herd meets some goals during spring
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team's offense needed to tinker during its month of spring practice. The defense needed an overhaul.
And both sides reached some of those goals this spring, culminating in Saturday's Green-White Game.
The offense won 55-38, both teams earning points through a number of accomplishments including first downs, plays of at least 20 yards, tackles for loss and turnovers recovered.
With three touchdowns through the air and one on the ground, the offense showed the 5,115 in attendance at Joan C. Edwards Stadium that it hadn't forgotten how to rack up yards and points. But with 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and nine pass breakups, the defense showed energy and tenacity it needs to carry into the fall.
The Thundering Herd's defense needed the work after a 2012 where it allowed an average of more than 43 points per game. New coordinator Chuck Heater arrived in January, and with him came an almost entirely new defensive staff. A new defensive scheme, employing five defensive backs, came with him, too.
Heater said he was happy with the progress the defense made this spring, especially since a new base defense doesn't always make for an easy transition.
"I'm really proud of where they've come," Heater said. "I told them that today. They're taking the coaching, and it's been hard coaching. The coaches have done a great job with them. They have confidence now to get something done. I think we're right where we need to be."
Heater singled out several players who impressed him this spring, including defensive lineman Steve Dillon, linebackers Stefan Houston and Derek Mitchell and cornerback Corey Tindal.
Houston and Mitchell racked up stops Saturday. Houston led the defense with seven tackles and broke up one pass, while Tindal recorded four tackles.
What impressed rising senior defensive end Alex Bazzie about the defense this spring was its ability to quickly embrace and understand Heater's new scheme.
That allowed communication to improve and that in turn made for a more efficient defense.
"Being all on the same page at once, getting the play and everybody knowing their job on that specific play, that's where we got better," Bazzie said, "just the understanding of what's going on for that one play. Last year, there would be time where everybody wasn't on the same page and everybody wasn't understanding what was going on. As we step out there, everyone is on the same page."
Bazzie admitted that, when the Herd defense took the field that first week of spring practice, it was obvious it had a lot to learn.
"The first day, Cato and Shuler and those guys experienced on offense and know how it's supposed to be run, they'd come out and make fun of us because we'd run around like chickens with our heads cut off," Bazzie said. "As you can see as time went by, we were making progress, understanding what we were supposed to be doing and were able to compete."
The offense didn't need to change much after a season it ranked first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards per game, sixth in total yards per game and seventh in points per game. Yet the group wouldn't settle for the status quo. The offense talked about establishing the run and mixing up tempo more often.
The Herd offense leaned on the run a little more during Saturday's spring game, running 38 times out of 84 plays. The offense scored its first touchdown of the day on, of all things, a Rakeem Cato eight-yard scramble for a score. That's from a quarterback with just 57 carries in 12 games last year. With even the quarterbacks asserting themselves in the running game, Cato said a more diverse offense could lead to an even better offense.
"We're trying to do whatever it takes to win," Cato said. "We know we had a great passing season last year and a great offensive season. People are going to start dropping eight and blitzing more. So me as a quarterback, and all of us as quarterbacks, we just figured we'd use our legs more to be two-dimensional."
The Marshall offense gained 435 yards and averaged more than five yards a play on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Bill Legg said he was encouraged, but not satisfied with the offense's ability to mix up-tempo.
"I don't think we're all the way there, but we made some progress," Legg said. "We added and tweaked and did some things. The foundation's still in place. We still want to tempo the football. At the same time, there are still points in time during the course of the football game where it would be nice if we could slow it down and control the clock because of where we're at in that point of the game, or whatever the case may be."
Now the Herd heads into summer workouts, preparing for preseason camp in August. The team doesn't want a repeat of 2012, where it again missed the bowl season with a 5-7 record. Coach Doc Holliday said the team set the groundwork this spring to be better in the fall.
"The thing you have to do as a team, is you have to walk off the field every day a better player and a better team," he said. "I thought for the most part, we took advantage of every day we had, whether we were in shorts or padded up. I'm excited about where we are at this point, but we've got a long way to go."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.