Chuck Landon: Herd needs to clone LeGrande, Okoroha
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Okechukwu Okoroha rested the cast on his broken right hand on a counter-top as he pondered the premise.
How can Marshall’s safeties — Okoroha at free safety and Dom LeGrande at strong safety — continue their roles as the Herd’s leading tacklers, yet still serve as the last line of defense against a UAB offense that loves to throw deep balls?
Talk about a conundrum.
That’s the perplexing problem Marshall faces when it plays UAB at 4:30 p.m. ,Saturday, in historic Legion Field.
The Herd actually needs Okoroha and LeGrande to be in two places at once.
Marshall needs LeGrande, who has a team-high 94 tackles, and Okoroha, who ranks second with 86 stops, to give their customary run support against hard-running UAB tailback Darrin Reaves.
Yet, defensive coordinator Chris Rippon also needs the two safeties to help defend UAB whippet wide receiver Jamarcus Nelson, who already has 75- and 50-yard touchdown catches this season and averages an eye-popping 20.2 yards per reception.
What’s a safety to do?
Sorry, Tyler Williams already has that job at Marshall.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in the secondary,” said Okoroha, nodding his head knowingly.
Does it ever.
First, there’s Reaves. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound sophomore hammered Southern Miss for 223 yards on 35 carries including 169 yards rushing in the second half alone.
“I feel like UAB has a really good running back,” said Okoroha. “He reminds me of a player that I played with at Boston College — Montel Harris. He’s at Temple now. Reaves reminds me a lot of him.”
Reaves, who is a second-generation UAB tailback, has rushed for 100 or more yards in consecutive games (166 against Tulane) and has scored 11 touchdowns in the Blazers’ last six games.
He is on a roll.
“He’s real low to the ground,” said Okoroha.
“We’re going to have to wrap up and bring it to him. We’re going to have to hit him. He looks like a really good player watching him on film.
“They have a really good offense. That quarterback (Austin Brown), he’s pretty good, too.”
Ah, there’s the dilemma.
Brown, a redshirt freshman, has thrown for 2,086 yards to a receiver corps that features five wideouts that average 15.0 yards or more per catch. By comparison, pass-happy Marshall has none.
“That is going to be a different type of offense than what we’ve seen,” said Okoroha of the Bobby Petrino-styled scheme. “They do like to take their shots (downfield).
“I’ve been watching film and they like to throw it a lot. That’s the reason we’ve got to bring our game.”
Okoroha is both spot on and on the spot.
That’s what happens to safeties in shootouts.
“Yeah, that’s really what it’s going to be like,” he said. “Somebody is going to have to make a play on the defensive side.”
Whoever makes the last stop just might win the game.
“It’s going to be like that,” agreed Okoroha. “It’s going to be a great game.”
Except for the Legion Field scoreboard operator.
He’s going to be one busy guy.
So, can Marshall win a road game that turns into a shootout? The Herd already has.
Remember the 54-51 win over Rice? There’s a good chance we’ll see a similar game Saturday.
Marshall will win, 51-45.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at email@example.com.