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Chuck Landon: Defense continuing to exceed expectation

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

The axiom comes straight from Football 101.

It reads: "Early in preseason camp or during spring practice, the defense is supposed to be ahead of the offense."

Every football coach dead or alive has uttered that sentence at least once, which is likely a conservative estimate since the lexicon has become part of "coach speak."

And, granted, 99 percent of the time it's true.

But what about the remaining 1 percent? What happens when it rears its unexpected head? What then?

That's when red flags and eyebrows raise.

Which is precisely what has been happening during the last 10 days of Marshall's spring practice at Edwards Stadium. Except for an offensive onslaught during Thursday's practice, the defense has been getting the best of the offense on a regular basis.

It happened during the first officiated scrimmage on April 13. Then, it occurred again Saturday as the defense produced seven sacks, five other tackles for loss, four interceptions and four pass-breakups in Marshall's second scrimmage of spring practice.

This simply wasn't supposed to happen.

Not with this defense going against this offense and certainly not this soon.

Remember, this is a defense that has been completely reinvented after yielding 43.1 points per game last season. And it's competing against the No. 1 passing offense in America that virtually has everyone returning from a unit that averaged 40.9 points in 2012.

So, there's no way Marshall's defense is supposed to be ahead of its offense.

Not in this particular scenario.

Yet, it has been for the last 10 days.

Unless new defensive coordinator is an Anne Sullivan in coaching shorts working miracles, that's a bit problematic.

Now, don't get me wrong. The defense's progress is several breaths of fresh air. It is a very welcome sight.

But the defense's progress didn't mean the offense was supposed to regress. However, that is what has been happening.

When the offense doesn't rush for 100 yards, there's a problem. In the first scrimmage, Marshall had 99 yards on 45 carries. On Saturday, the Herd rushed for 97 yards on 44 attempts.

That's a paltry 2.2 yards per carry during the two scrimmages.

When quarterback Rakeem Cato doesn't throw a touchdown pass in a scrimmage or game, there's a problem. That didn't happen a single time in 2012.

"I can't remember the last time that happened," said Cato, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards on Saturday. "I was surprised."

When seven different defensive players register sacks, including four by linemen, there's a problem. Far too often, Cato had to run for his passing life in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I mean, some of the pressure was because of missed assignments from the running backs," said Cato. "We've got to get that taken care of."

Has Cato ever been forced to move around in the pocket that much? Probably not.

"Nah," he agreed. "But some of the time I was running just to run. Sometimes there was good coverage downfield and I was just trying to move the pocket and force the defense to collapse and open up a hole for a wideout, so I could make a play."

That's a valid point.

But the fact remains the offense scored only six times on 22 possessions in the scrimmage. And half of those scores were by the third-team.

Bottom line?

The defense needs to continue improving and the offense needs to wakeup.

What's wrong with having the best of both worlds?

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



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