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Chuck Landon: Heater puts chill on UTSA offense

Oct. 06, 2013 @ 12:16 AM

The jury was still out on Marshall’s defense.

Sure, it was better than 2012, but that’s not saying anything. It’s faint praise at best.

Holding Miami (Ohio) to 14 points? So what. Shutting out Gardner-Webb? Big deal. Allowing 34 points to Ohio and 29 to Virginia Tech in a pair of losses? Enough said.

Yes, the jury most certainly was still out.

But it came in on Saturday. And the verdict was unanimous. Marshall’s defense is the real deal.
In fact, this is probably Marshall’s best defensive unit in 10 years.

That’s what the MU defense proved during a 34-10 win over UTSA Saturday before a disappointingly small crowd of 28,837 at Edwards Stadium.

How impressive was the defense?

This impressive.

Marshall held UTSA to its lowest point total (10), lowest total offense (254 yards), lowest rushing yardage (97) and lowest passing yardage (157 yards) of the season.

The potent Roadrunners offense hadn’t been held to less than 100 yards rushing, 200 yards passing or nearly 400 yards total offense all season.

That’s how dominant Marshall’s defense was.

“We didn’t need them flying on all cylinders today,” said defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. “We just hit it kind of right. They had a tough game at Houston last week. They had a long flight here. And their best player (Kam Jones) was not here.

“I thought this had the potential to be an off day for them.”

It certainly was.

But Heater’s defense also had a lot to do with that.

“You’ve got to have playmakers who get you off the field,” explained the veteran defensive coordinator. “You have to have those kind of guys.

“There are 13 guys who are playing significant time who weren’t here last year.”

The list includes true freshman linebacker Stefan Houston, who led Marshall in tackles with eight while getting his first meaningful playing time of the season. Then, there’s linebacker Evan McKelvey (six tackles, one interception) who missed last season with a knee injury.

And linebacker Neville Hewitt, MU’s leading tackler on the season, who was playing in junior college this time a year ago. Cornerback Darryl Roberts, who missed last season with an ankle injury. And defensive end Gary Thompson (two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and tackle for loss), who sat out last year as an academic non-qualifier.

All those players are making a huge difference this season.

But the biggest difference?

It’s Heater.

A prime example is the gadget defense he unveiled against UTSA. It involved only one down lineman, while the other defensive linemen and linebackers actually just sort of milled around.

As odd as that sounds, it was incredibly successful. UTSA converted only four of 14 third-down situations.

“It’s called ‘Radar,’ ” said Heater. “We had a little extra time during the off-week and we put it in for passing situations.”

It obviously caught UTSA off-guard.

“I like it,” said McKelvey. “I’ve never run that before. But I think that really confuses the offense completely with everyone moving around.”

For a while, it confused the defense, too.

“In practice we were bumping into each other,” said McKelvey with a laugh. “I tripped over somebody one day.”

But all the bumping and tripping Saturday was by UTSA.

Marshall’s vastly improved defense made sure of that.

“I can’t give enough credit to our defense and our defensive staff,” said MU head coach Doc Holliday. “Coach Heater did a tremendous job.”

Yes, he did.

Just ask UTSA.

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

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