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Chuck Landon: Marshall targeting Houston's Keenum

Oct. 20, 2011 @ 06:53 AM

Case Keenum is about to learn how a clay pigeon feels.

It's not fun.

Especially when Marshall's quarterback-shooting defense hollers, "Pull!"

Just ask such QBs as Southern Miss' Austin Davis, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, UCF's Mark Godfrey and Rice's Taylor McHargue.

They've all experienced the pain of playing against Marshall's quarterback-devouring defense. They've all felt the anxiety of being caught in the cross-hairs of MU's quarterback-unfriendly defense.

Mostly, they've all felt what it is like to be a target.

That's what awaits Keenum when his unbeaten Houston Cougars host Marshall at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Robertson Stadium at Houston, Texas.

There will be a bull's-eye on his No. 7 jersey.

Marshall has already sent four opposing quarterbacks staggering to the sideline in seven games. Keenum? The Herd defense wants to make him No. 5 on the hit parade.

"As a defense, that's our key to the game," said Marshall nose tackle Delvin Johnson. "We try to kill the head of the snake every game. Putting out the quarterback is a real big deal for us."

The Herd has gotten very adept at it.

First, MU linebacker Tyson Gale caught Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis not paying attention after tossing an interception and absolutely rocked him. Davis had to be helped to the sideline. Next, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas had to leave because of a bruised shoulder.

Then, there was Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. He didn't come out of the game after a big hit from Herd defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, but he clearly didn't want any more contact.

"He got up real slow," remembered Marshall free safety Omar Brown.

Next, there was UCF's Mark Godfrey. Normally, he's an elusive quarterback, but MU star defensive end Vinny Curry nailed Godfrey on a sack and he came out. Enter backup Blake Bortles, who botched a handoff resulting in a forced fumble by Curry. Rashad Jackson picked up the loose ball and returned it for the Herd's only TD of the game.

That's the perfect example of what knocking the starting quarterback out of a game can mean.

"He's the first-string quarterback for a reason," pointed out Brown. "And a second-string quarterback doesn't bring as much to the table as the first-string. So, it kind of slows them down in a way, which is a good thing for us.

"We've already gotten after the first-string quarterback, so now we see the second-stringer coming and we're going to get after him even more."

It's like blood in the water for Marshall's piranha-like defenders.

"Exactly," said Brown with a laugh.

The same thing happened last Saturday when a combined hit by strong safety Devin Arrington and middle linebacker Kellen Harris put Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue on the shelf.

"The new kid came in and was introduced to a pass rush on the first play," said Gale. "First play he was in there, coming off the bench. ... that's got to be difficult for a guy to do. He didn't have a chance to succeed there."

And that's the entire idea.

"We want to punish those guys," said Gale. "Nothing dirty, but we do want to find out who the backup quarterback is every game."

That's the attitude Keenum will face Saturday.

"He's one of the top quarterbacks in the nation," said Brown. "For them to lose a guy like that. ... they won't have a backup to compare to him."

So, forget deer.

At Marshall, it's open season on quarterbacks.

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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