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Chuck Landon: MU is its toughest defensive opponent

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Who plays the best defense against Marshall's high-octane offense?

Pick an opponent.

Is it Ohio, which has yielded a total of only 31 points in consecutive wins over the Herd? Is it UAB, which stunned Marshall, 38-31, last season by dropping eight into coverage on every play? Is it Tulsa, whose grinding ground game shortens MU's possessions, plays and opportunities?

Or is it one of the other 125 Football Bowl Subdivision defenses?

Take a guess while I hum the theme to "Jeopardy."

The answer?

Look homeward, whether you're an angel or not. The school that plays the best defense against the Herd's potent offense is none other than Marshall.

"That's absolutely true," said offensive coordinator Bill Legg. "They go against us every day. So, they know our plays, our calls, our checks. ..."

Sometimes, the MU defense knows what the Herd offense is going to do before it does it. And it has shown during Marshall's two preseason scrimmages at Edwards Stadium.

The offense has scored a very pedestrian five touchdowns on 173 plays during the two scrimmages.

Granted, Marshall's offense performed much better in the second scrimmage Saturday night, scoring four touchdowns in 87 plays. But that's still a far cry from the 40.9 points the Herd averaged in 2012.

That's because familiarity breeds content for the Marshall defense.

It's particularly obvious in two areas: Defending the run and outside receivers.

In 173 plays, Marshall has scored only one rushing touchdown. Just one. Remi Watson powered his way for a 9-yard TD Saturday night.

But, otherwise, MU's defense held Marshall's ground game to only 96 yards on 32 carries for just 3.0 yards per attempt. The Herd's rushing attack has got to be much more productive when the season begins.

Will that happen?

Yes.

The same is true of Marshall's outside receivers. MU's quarterbacks completed 32 passes Saturday night, but only seven went to the "X" or "Z" wideouts for 99 yards. Meanwhile, the slot receivers, tight ends and running backs were combining on 25 catches for 266 yards.

The reason?

"Our defense won't let our outside receivers get involved," said Legg. "They take 'em away."

Do they ever.

In two scrimmages, "X" receivers Shawney Kersey and Davonte Allen have combined for zero catches. None. True freshman Justin Hunt has two receptions for 26 yards, but that's the sum total.

Will that be the case when the season starts?

Of course not.

That's why scrimmage statistics have to be taken with enough salt to tame a deer. All the advantages go to the defense during a scrimmage.

Fans should keep that in mind.

It's simply how college football works.

MU RESPECT: Marshall is expected to have a breakout season, but the Herd still has to earn respect nationally. That showed in the first USA Today Sports Coaches Poll of the 2013 season.

Four Herd opponents received votes in the Top 25. Virginia Tech, which was unranked for the first time since 2004, led the way with 65 points. That placed the Hokies at No. 30.

Following Virginia Tech were Tulsa at No. 39 (nine points), Ohio at No. 40 (eight points) and East Carolina at No. 44 (three points).

The best part?

The poll should provide Marshall with a generous amount of motivation.

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

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