Chuck Landon: Chance to pull upset lessened by defense
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — No need to "Shout" it out.
The detergent that every mom relies on to get the grass stains out of the kids' clothing won't be necessary.
At least, not for the uniforms belonging to Marshall's defense.
The Herd offense?
It played well enough Saturday afternoon to upset Purdue on the natural grass of Ross-Ade Stadium.
More than well enough, in fact.
Sure, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato contributed two touchdowns to Purdue's scoring parade with interceptions that were returned for Boilermaker scores.
But those gaffes aside, the Herd offense played well enough to break Marshall's 0-for-Big Ten streak, played well enough to steal a signature win and played well enough to beat a good Purdue team in its own stadium.
But the defense?
Well, it just didn't get enough grass stains on its uniforms.
The result was a surprisingly competitive 51-41 loss to Purdue before 45,481 fans that raised eye-brows around two different leagues - Conference USA and the Big Ten.
In C-USA, this game sent the undeniable message that Marshall's high-octane offense, which revolves around a prolific passing attack, is for real. When an offense scores 41 points, amasses 534 yards of total offense and averages 5.9 yards per play against one of the premier defenses in the nation, it is indeed legitimate.
As for the Big Ten, this game sent a message that Purdue's defense can be carved up by a quick-striking, spread offense that utilizes a horizontal passing game.
Now, if Marshall could just get its defense to show up for the beginning of a game. Maybe then the Herd could have a winning record instead of being 2-3.
In two losses this season -- Ohio and, now, Purdue -- all the talk was about how the defense performed better in the second half.
That's all well and good, but what about the first half? That's when the Purdue game was lost. After all, the Boilermakers led, 42-14, at halftime.
So, Marshall's defense could have shut out Purdue in the second half and the Boilermakers still would have won the game, 42-41.
Not showing up until the second half is the problem, not improvement.
"We started a little slow," admitted defensive tackle Marquis Aiken. "We picked it up in the second half, but we came up a little short."
That's a familiar refrain.
The bottom line is whether the defense finally shows up for the second half or not, it's not playing for 60 minutes. That's the problem.
The offense is playing for 60 minutes. In fact, it's playing lights out most of the time. But the defense? It didn't show up for three games at all, not until halftime for the two others and not on third-down for any of the five contests.
For example, Purdue converted 10 of 18 third-down opportunities.
"Again, we didn't get off the field," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. "We've got to find a way when it's third down to get off the field."
What Marshall has to do is find a way for its defense to hold opponents below the 44.4 point-average it has been torched for in the Herd's first five games.
So far, Marshall's defense has allowed 69 points to WVU in the opener and, now, back-to-back scorches of 51 points to Rice last week and another 51 to Purdue.
That isn't acceptable.
There will be no "Shout" out for that sort of effort.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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