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Chuck Landon: Adjustments in coaching needed for Herd success

Nov. 26, 2012 @ 11:40 PM

The departure of defensive coordinator Chris Rippon was a positive move for Marshall's football program.

When a defense yields 69 points in the season-opener and allows 65 points 11 games later in the season finale ... well, a change obviously needs to be made.

But that move was just a start. Several other changes also are necessary.

Besides a drastic alteration in defensive philosophy, Marshall's football program needs personnel changes, adjustments in the pedal-to-the-metal pace of its spread offense, further tweaking of the coaching staff and better game management.

All that became painfully obvious during a disturbing 5-7 season in 2012.

As for the personnel changes, the philosophy of going to quicker, but much smaller, linebackers simply didn't work. All it did was lead to Marshall becoming one of the worst rush defenses in America, ranking No. 105 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

Sure, converted strong safety D.J. Hunter made 102 tackles, but too many were downfield. That's why opponents averaged an alarming 4.62 yards per rush.

The same premise is true of a defensive philosophy that utilized safeties like linebackers. Sure, strong safety Dom LeGrande made a team-high 132 tackles. And, yes, free safety Okechukwu Okoroha was second with 108 tackles.

But besides that, also playing a major role in the 4.62 yards-per-carry average, it also led to pass defense problems because the Herd rarely played two-deep coverage.

The solution?

Play linebacker-sized guys at linebacker, for starters. Middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes played lights-out down the stretch, but he needs help. It should be available from Devon Johnson, who says he will move back to linebacker from fullback in the spring.

Then, there's Cortez Carter, Deon Meadows and a pair of highly regarded academic non-qualifiers in Gary Thompson and Kent Turene.

As for the vacant safety jobs, it would make sense to move Hunter back to strong safety and shift Keith Baxter to free safety. Moving Baxter would ease a crowded situation at cornerback that includes Derrick Thomas, Monterius Lovett, Darryl Roberts and A.J. Leggett.

Then, there's the break-neck pace of Marshall's offense. It didn't actually break any necks, but it certainly contributed to lots and lots of other injuries.

That's because the Herd averaged 92.8 offensive plays per game, which was 23.9 more plays than the 67.7 Marshall averaged in 2011.

That means Marshall's offensive players were involved in 286.8 more collisions during the course of the 2012 season than they were in 2011.

So, is it any wonder Marshall was playing its fourth-string running back in the East Carolina game? Is it any wonder MU started seven different lineups in the offensive line in 12 games? Is it any wonder seven receivers were injured during the season?

That's the result of leading the nation in plays per game.

Another consequence is incredibly short scoring drives. Of Marshall's 63 offensive touchdown drives, only four lasted five minutes or longer.

In fact, the lengthiest scoring drive of the season was the 15-play, 75-yard TD drive backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel engineered in the fourth quarter against East Carolina. It lasted 5:21.

All those short two- or three-minute drives simply meant an already struggling defense wasn't getting enough rest and was spending far too much time on the field.

That's why Marshall needs improved game management by its coaching staff.

Running as many plays as humanly possible isn't the answer. The solution is varying the pace. Sometimes slowing it down and allowing the defense to rest. Sometimes going hyper-speed.

Marshall needs to make all these changes.

And then some.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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