UAB had plan to stop Herd
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Heading into Saturday's football game against UAB, everyone knew Marshall University featured one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks.
Marshall passed for 374.33 yards per game through its first nine contests en route to 530 total yards per game.
With Marshall having trouble running the ball at times this season, what happened Saturday was bound to occur at some point.
UAB decided to drop eight players into coverage and force Marshall to beat them with the run. Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) didn't do it, and UAB (3-7, 2-4) won the game, 38-31, in Legion Field.
Dropping eight defensive players in pass coverage is normally reserved for long-yardage situations and is most seen on third down. In this contest, it was featured by the Blazers on all of the Thundering Herd's 75 snaps.
"Every play," Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "From the first play to the last play. I've never seen it before -- ever."
Marshall's automatic adjustment was as expected.
The Herd simply hit check-down routes and continued to take what the defense appeared to be giving them -- the run.
In two road C-USA games prior to Saturday, Marshall had averaged 304.5 yards on the ground. On Saturday, the Herd never got its ground attack going, rushing for just 121 yards on 41 carries, averaging less than three yards per rush.
It was a schematic success on the part of UAB head coach Garrick McGee, who talked about his plans after the game.
"Our defensive plan was to play eight people in the coverage and play these exotic-looking coverages," McGee said. "We thought that once we did that, the adjustment that an offense makes is to run the football more.
"We really wanted them running the football more because they had killed everybody throwing the football around. So, our plan worked."
Essentially, McGee's plan to drop eight forced the Herd to try and use its rushing attack to break gaps. However, with only three down linemen in the zone-blocking scheme, Marshall's offensive linemen were having trouble picking up players to block as those who were in coverage read the run and converged on the play.
"We didn't think that's what they were going to do, so it was an adjustment. ..." Marshall offensive lineman Jordan Jeffries said. "They'd drop eight and we'd try to run the ball, then everyone would come up. Rushing three turned into blocking six or seven or eight."
Whether it was Cato or Jeffries or any of the Marshall players, none were expecting to see a team come out and drop eight into coverage.
And therein lies the problem.
McGee knew Marshall was a prolific passing team, but he also had studied their patterns to see automatic checks when facing a three-man front.
He baited Marshall into playing into his hands.
Despite being one of the nation's top passing offenses, the Herd didn't adjust to the gimmick look.