Defensive line leading the surge
HUNTINGTON -- Gardner-Webb quarterback Lucas Beatty might have had a green-tinted nightmare once he got to sleep after returning to North Carolina on Saturday night.
That's because everywhere he looked during Saturday's 55-0 loss to Marshall, all he could see was green.
And it certainly wasn't turf -- that is, until he was laying on it.
Instead, it was the interior of the Thundering Herd's defensive line, who consistently penetrated through the line to limit Beatty's visibility in the passing game while also stuffing the run with their push up the middle.
Marshall's defensive front bullied the offensive line of the Runnin' Bulldogs and consistently ended up in the backfield, making for a long night in which Gardner-Webb averaged just 2.9 yards per play.
"We just work as a family," Marshall defensive tackle Steve Dillon said. "We all know what each other's jobs are and so we try to set each other up. While we're out there, we communicate what we think the O-line is going to do and it falls in our favor. When we predict what they are doing before they even do it, that helps us."
Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said the work of the interior defense really helps the entire defense.
"The ends might be getting in for the sack, but if they weren't getting that push, the quarterback could just step up and make his throw," Taylor said. "There's nowhere for him to step up when they get that push. I noticed Steve (Dillon) in his face three or four different times."
Being an interior defensive lineman is often a thankless job with limited gratification. Defensive tackles are often called on to clog the offensive front to allow linebackers to be free in run defense and they are asked to get a push to allow ends to come free on pass rush.
Statistically speaking, it isn't too often that the big guys in the middle are going to be the team leaders in tackles, although backup defensive tackle Josh Brown led the team with six tackles and a sack on Saturday.
Normally, their impact will go beyond statistics, though.
In breaking down Saturday's game, the defense as a whole got credit for six turnovers -- three fumbles, three interceptions.
Three of those came in the second quarter, leading to 17 points.
And it was the defensive front's presence that led to each.
The first turnover was an interception by A.J. Leggett in which pressure forced Beatty to get rid of the pass early.
After a Marshall touchdown, Beatty's first play on the next series was an option keeper in which defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow got pressure. Beatty lost the ball as he tried to pull it from the running back's hip and Corey Tindal recovered to set up a field goal.
Three plays after that, pressure through the middle distracted Beatty's vision and he threw a pass to Marshall defensive back Monterius Lovett, who returned it 70 yards for a score.
Statistically, there won't be much mention of the job of the interior defensive front, but they keyed each turnover and their presence has dictated each of the first two contests.
This week, the Herd defense will face an Ohio offense that returns veteran quarterback Tyler Tettleton and bulldozing running back Beau Blankenship.
It will be a massive test for the Herd, and the game will be won in the middle of the Herd defense.
That starts up front with the defensive tackles leading the surge.
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