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Marshall's Abraham Beauplan (7) sacks North Carolina Central quarterback Davius Richard (11) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington. The Herd defense has 17 sacks on the season, which is tied with LSU for No. 1 in FBS. Marshall also has 28 tackles for loss, which is 9th.

HUNTINGTON — East Carolina’s nickname is quite befitting after seeing film of last week’s 20-17 loss to SEC foe South Carolina.

They are Pirates. And, indeed, they like to steal.

In the first half alone, East Carolina’s defense forced three turnovers that took away scoring opportunities from the Gamecocks as ECU jumped to a 14-0 lead with all the momentum.

Ironically, it was an ECU turnover of its own — a late first half interception return for a score — that breathed life back into South Carolina, which looked like it was walking the edge of the plank.

While the end was a loss for the Pirates, the defensive performance showed plenty for Marshall coach Charles Huff to keynote in practice this week.

Given that Marshall started sloppy in its win over North Carolina Central last week, that point was driven home by the Herd’s first-year head coach.

“These guys run to the ball- they strike,” Huff said. “They do a phenomenal job of getting the ball out. We’ve over-emphasized that they put an emphasis on getting the ball out, whether that’s attacking the ball in the air for interceptions or ripping the ball out from the runner.”

Putting the ball on the ground is especially a point of emphasis for Marshall, who has fumbled six times in two games, but only lost one.

Huff warned that those things start to come full circle and bite you, so practice this week dealt with those scenarios.

“Obviously, we’ve got an issue with that and we’ve got to continue to talk about it and get it corrected,” Huff said. ‘Something that’s an issue for us is a positive for them, so we’ve got to be aware of it.”

Last week’s miscues were somewhat unforced against NC Central as the Herd started sluggish early.

The game’s first snap was a dropped quarterback-center exchange between Grant Wells and Alex Mollette that Wells recovered and ran forward for two yards. Later, Wells mishandled a snap in the shotgun that threw the timing of a handoff to Rasheen Ali awry, which ended up with the ball on the turf.

Not only can those plays cause turnovers, but they also cause disarray within the offense, which Huff wants to run smooth.

At Navy, Marshall looked seamless on its opening drive, marching right down the field for a score.

Considering that East Carolina has jumped out to a lead in both of its games this season, Huff would like to see the offense start faster and get in rhythm, which could put the Pirates on their heels.

Huff has praised the play of quarterback Grant Wells in the first two games, saying aside from a handful of plays, he’s executed well.

East Carolina coach Mike Houston agreed with Huff’s assessment after seeing Wells execute the offense on film.

“I’ve been really impressed by him.” Houston said. “He’s a good athlete — runs well, can really throw it, has great arm talent. He really rips it now. (He has the) same offensive coordinator that he’s had the whole time he’s been there. Coach Huff retained the OC and I think they’re playing very, very well right now. We’ve got to play good defensively.”

Wells is currently No. 7 in FBS at 340 yards passing per game. That mark is made more impressive by the fact that he has played in three or fewer quarters in each of the first two contests.

The defensive talent for East Carolina increases the competition level for the Herd, which is why Huff is emphasizing the start.

With the tempo offense, Huff wants his team to set the tone early and maintain its intensity for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch, who also covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.

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