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Chuck Landon: Herd fans play game of blame

Oct. 13, 2012 @ 11:19 PM

Marshall fans are more up in arms than Rakeem Cato.

They are dismayed, disturbed and distraught about a Herd defense that is being "dissed" by every opposing offense.

How bad is it?

So bad, Marshall ranks as one of the very worst defenses in all of college football.

The Herd is dead-last in scoring defense ranking No. 120, allowing 44.5 points per game. It is No. 112 in rushing defense, yielding an average of 229.0 yards. And MU is No. 105 in total defense, giving up a sieve-like 469.8 yards per game.

Those horrendous statistics along with a 2-4 record have the Herd Universe pondering one predictable question.

Who is to blame?

Many fingers are pointed at defensive coordinator Chris Rippon.

Others are bothered by head coach Doc Holliday's seeming inconsistency of saying he believes defense wins championships, but then putting a mediocre defense on the field week after week.

So, whose fault is it?

Well, actually, the Marshall offense is to blame.

Yes, the same offense that has captivated the fan base. The same offense that is ranked No. 3 in the nation in passing and No. 5 in total offense. The same spread offense that is the craze of college football.

There's only one problem with the spread.

Namely, it creates terrible defense for its own team. It is virtually impossible to run the spread on offense and be the least bit competent on defense.

Delve into the history of the spread.

Such proponents of the spread as Hal Mumme, Mike Leach and Tony Franklin along with such disciples as Kevin Sumlin, Sonny Dykes and Dana Holgorsen never have coached a team with a good defense.

That's because the high-tempo of the spread offense, which leads to an incredibly large number of plays, throws a team's very own defense under the bus.

Marshall, for example, leads the nation in offensive plays with 93.6 per game. But that frenetic pace has caused the Herd's defense to be on the field for 81.5 snaps per game.

The result has been disastrous, defensively.

Yet, that is simply the nature of the spread offense beast.

Rich Rodriguez' spread at Arizona entered the weekend second in the nation in plays per game at 90.6, but the Wildcats are ranked No. 111 in total defense (480.5 yards).

Future Conference USA member Louisiana Tech was undefeated while averaging 80.4 plays per game, but was ranked next to last in the country in total defense (531.0 yards). Baylor was averaging 83.3 plays and was No. 2 in total offense with 601.5 yards per game, but ranked dead-last in total defense (571.3 yards).

Look northward to Morgantown, W.Va. Holgorsen's spread is the darling of college football, but WVU was No. 102 in total defense. Think it's a coincidence that former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left Holgorsen's staff after one season and took a pay cut to leap from the skillet into the inferno at Arizona?

If the premise of defense wins championships is true, then the spread offense isn't the answer. Look at Alabama and LSU. The Tide was leading the nation in total defense, but ranked No. 114 in plays per game (65.4). LSU was No. 3 in total defense and ranked No. 101 in plays (67.4).

The correlation is undeniable.

That means Marshall's defense isn't going to get much better as long as the Herd runs a true spread offense. That's the trade-off. That's the deal with this devilish offense.

Like it or not, MU fans better get used to it.

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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