Elusive QB up first for Herd defense
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - OK, so Marshall's retooled defense gets its first test Saturday night against Miami (Ohio).
The RedHawks' "new" starting quarterback is Austin Boucher, and his his most scout-worthy video came in 2010. OK, also 2011 - that's only because the bowl game he won in Mobile, Ala., was played after New Year's Day.
Does this fifth-year senior remind MU players of anyone?
"[Tyler] Tettleton [of Ohio] and the guy from Rice, [Taylor] McHargue. Those are the two main ones," said safety D.J. Hunter, who chased both from his former linebacker position.
Uh, oh. This will test the Thundering Herd's defense of new coordinator Chuck Heater, won't it?
Remember, the "old" MU defense of since-departed coordinator Chris Rippon flunked its tests against Tettleton and McHargue.
Tettleton accounted for four touchdowns in Ohio's 44-7 rout of the Herd in 2011, throwing for 285 yards on 20-of-29 passing and gaining 53 yards on the ground. In the Bobcats' 27-24 win last year, Tettleton threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 35 yards on seven carries, with nary a sack.
The Herd was just plain lucky to defeat McHargue and the Owls 54-51 in double overtime. McHargue beat himself in the literal sense, injuring his shoulder at the 2-yard line by diving for what he thought could be the go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes.
McHargue looked like Johnny Manziel before then, passing for 314 yards and rushing for 153 and accounting for four long touchdowns - passes of 43, 31 and 50 yards plus a run of 43. He was injured at the end of a 47-yard scamper.
Yes, Heater watched that video. The Ohio game, as well. He's seen just enough of Boucher to add urgency to his task of rebuilding the Herd's defense, physically, mentally and psychologically.
"There's a distinct advantage for a mobile quarterback," Heater said. "You get so many gaps to fill up, and the quarterback's going to escape. You've got to have enough recovery speed and athleticism on defense that you can recover and tackle him for minimal gain.
"Those guys are a problem for all defensive coaches, and that goes for the NFL as well."
Boucher, a 6-foot-1, 214-pound fifth-year senior from Kettering, Ohio, has been stuck behind Zac Dysert the previous three seasons. No shame in that - Dysert was drafted in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos after throwing for 12,013 yards, passing Ben Roethlisberger for the school record.
Dysert suffered a lacerated spleen late in the 2010 season, leaving the QB chores to Boucher, then a freshman. Boucher led the RedHawks on a game-winning drive against Bowling Green, threw for the winning TD over Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference championship game and was named MVP after a 35-21 win over Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
After that, he went 13 of 23 for 158 yards and one touchdown - for the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons. When he takes the field shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, he will have gone 966 days between starts.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to play again," Boucher said Monday. "It was an honor and a blessing by my team to be named a captain, and I'm just excited to help lead this team, have the opportunity to be on the field again."
Now, the Herd must figure him out with precious little video to do so. There is a fair amount of mystery around the skill positions.
Junior receiver Dawan Scott (57 receptions, 851 yards, seven touchdowns last year) and senior tight ends Steve Marck (27-299) and 253-pound Dustin White (12-88) are known quantities, but others aren't. Scott's backup is a junior, but other receivers on the two-deep are freshmen or sophomores.
That's fine by Boucher, who has long since gotten past the sudden transfer of Nick Harwell to Kansas in the spring.
"You know, we've moved past that, and we're just focused on the guys we have," Boucher said. "We have great receivers up and down the field: Rokeem Williams, Fred McRae, Dawan Scott, to name a few, with tight ends Dustin White and Steve Marck.
"We're excited to utilize the weapons we have; we think they're great players and can make any play."
Marshall's defense should get a loud boost from a season-opening home crowd, but a little noise only goes so far against a fifth-year senior who can escape a collapsing pocket and make a defense pay.
"You have to contain him," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "You would have thought he would have gotten more snaps [in 2011-12]. He's very capable. If you go back and watch his last four games, he throws extremely catchable balls. He's also very accurate."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.