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Marshall defense struggling for stops

MU football
Oct. 10, 2012 @ 12:06 AM

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has spent the last two mid-week press conferences speaking on just a few plays marking the difference between victory and defeat.

In terms of defense, those plays are on third and fourth downs, and the Thundering Herd has struggled as of late in those categories.

Marshall is now 104th in the country in third-down defense (48.4 percent) and the opposition has completed 6 of 9 fourth-down conversions.

"When your number gets called you have to go out there and make a play," Holliday said. "You practice those types of plays in practice and they are more comfortable when they see that situation in the game."

As Marshall fell behind Tulsa last weekend, 17-3, early in the second quarter, it looked like the game would be bleak for Homecoming fans.

However, the defense stiffened for the Herd and got off the field on six of seven third-down conversions between that point of the second quarter and into the fourth quarter as the team got back into the contest and took a 38-37 lead.

On Tulsa's next drive, however, the Golden Hurricane went 2-for-2 on third downs, including the game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass from Cody Green to Jordan James with 8:25 remaining.

The Herd also allowed Tulsa to go 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in the game. All three fourth-down conversions led to touchdowns for the Golden Hurricane.

The first was a fourth-and-1 play in which Tulsa bruiser Alex Singleton took a handoff and raced 48 yards for a touchdown after a Marshall player missed a gap assignment with the box loaded up against the run.

The second was more of a statement of how Tulsa was approaching the game.

Facing 4th-and-3 inside the Herd 10-yard line, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship opted to go for it instead of kicking a field goal for a two-possession advantage.

A stop, and the Herd has momentum plus the ball, trailing by just seven points.

Instead, Singleton took the handoff and got three yards on fourth-and-3 to continue the drive before scoring on a 4-yard plunge two plays later.

The final fourth-down conversion came with the score tied 17-17. Tulsa took the ball out of halftime and faced a fourth-and-2 at the Marshall 36. At that point, the Herd had momentum after knotting the game just before the break, but once again Singleton took the ball, bounced off tacklers and gained six yards to continue the drive before capping the drive with a 2-yard run to put Tulsa back in front.

It was just three plays, but if the Herd gets one stop, the Golden Hurricane doesn't score. In a game where the final outcome is one score, those plays get magnified.

It is those plays -- whether third or fourth down -- that the Herd must learn to make to turn the season around.

If they make a few of them, the Herd is sitting at 5-1 right now instead of 2-4.

EYE-OPENING STATISTIC: Many people have started to panic because Marshall started 2-4 this season.

In looking at numbers, though, that should not be the case.

Marshall's four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 19-3. The losses include to a pair of undefeated teams -- No. 5 West Virginia and Ohio, who was ranked No. 26 this week in The Associated Press poll.

Another loss came to Purdue, which only has a pair of losses to No.7 Notre Dame and No. 25 Michigan, and the other came on Saturday to Tulsa, who is 5-1 and has a lone loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones are third in the "Others Receiving Votes" category, placing them 28th in rank. Tulsa also received two votes this week after their fifth-straight win.

In looking ahead to the back end of the schedule, the current combined record of teams on Marshall's schedule is 10-21. The only team in the next four games that currently has more than one win is UCF, who is 3-2 and comes to Marshall on Oct. 27.

Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).

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