MU notebook: Holmes rocking runners
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Only one game is in the books for the Marshall defense, but this much is clear: The change in coaching scenery is indeed doing that side well.
Perhaps Jermaine Holmes will be the greatest beneficiary.
The 5-foot-11, 243-pound junior from Valdosta, Ga., enjoyed probably the best game of his career in the Thundering Herd's 52-14 whipping of Miami (Ohio), as he had eight tackles, four solo, with three tackles for loss and one sack.
Miami lost a total of 11 yards on those hard tackles, which will happen when a middle linebacker crosses the line of scrimmage freely. Holmes said he went in untouched twice.
"If they're going to give it to me, I'll take it," Holmes said Monday. "I'm not going to complain."
As exhibited in preseason camp, Holmes took advantage of a lighter play-calling and play-remembering load. Under new coordinator Chuck Heater, a single word dictated the plan for all units, all 11 players. Previously, Herd defenders had much more to think about.
Also, Holmes has prospered so far with some old-fashioned teaching.
"Heater came in, he taught me some things I didn't know," Holmes said. "I was like, 'Dang, if I'd do what coach Heater taught me [in 2012], I would have made this play, that play.' Each day I learned something new under [position coach Adam] Fuller and coach Heater, and that's going to help us a lot this year."
His teammates are noticing the difference, certainly. They're almost feeling his fierce hits.
"I think he's always been that way," said fellow linebacker Raheem Waiters. "But coach Fuller came in, critiqued him up a little bit and he's playing with a little more control, more discipline, and it shows."
Waiters played about 15 snaps, he said — shoot, Miami's offense was limited to 57 — and pretty much made the most of them. He had four tackles and a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Through the preseason, he has showed some anticipation skills.
"Just like the scrimmage [when he scored on a similar play]," Waiters said. "We were in the same coverage, [I] take the back or read the quarterback, I read the quarterback and his eyes took me straight to the ball — he threw it right to me.
"And he was the last line of defense. I wasn't going to let a quarterback tackle me."
That would have cost him a lot of grief in the locker room.
It appeared that Miami set its defensive strategy after watching quarterback Rakeem Cato and the Herd struggle against an eight-man coverage used last year by Alabama-Birmingham.
The Blazers won that game 38-31, using that drop-eight coverage with any number of variations. Cato said UAB had dropped eight sparingly in each game before, but did it every single time against the Herd.
The crazy thing is this: Marshall still averaged fewer than 21/2 yards per carry, stifling Cato's effectiveness. He completed 25 of 34, yes, but for only 216 yards. His second-quarter interception helped UAB compile a 24-7 halftime lead.
This time around, Marshall's run game shelved the RedHawks' strategy. That started on the breakout touchdown drive in the second period, when Cato ran 15 yards on a third-and-8, and then Kevin Grooms rambled 39 yards to the Miami 10-yard line.
On the next drive, the Herd busted Miami in the nose again. Nine of the 13 plays gained 59 of the 78 yards needed to give Marshall a 14-7 lead.
Eventually, Miami had to put defenders back in the "box." Then Cato completed three passes for 48 of the 65 yards needed to put the Herd up for good, 21-14.
On the next drive, Marshall ran seven plays and Cato completed all three passes, the last being a 16-yard shot to Craig Wilkins. During that drive, the RedHawks called timeout to catch their breath against the Herd's offensive, which went into uber-tempo.
"They were kind of sluggish," said receiver Tommy Shuler. "They weren't even lining up when we were going to fast tempo."
So you could say Miami started the game dropping eight defenders and ended up dropping in a heap, right?
Speaking of dropping, that's pretty much how Cato "slides" at the end of a first-down run. He helped torch the Miami pass coverage with his feet, converting five first downs on his nine carries. But his flopping to the turf to avoid a big hit is nearly comical.
"I need to teach him how to slide. He's rolling on his stomach and stuff," Shuler said.
Nothing doing, Cato said.
"I played baseball, but I never slid," he said. "As long as I get down and nobody touches me, I'm OK with that."
Offensive line report: Garrett Scott led the unit with six knockdowns, with Chris Jasperse being credited with 51/2.
In his first start, Sebastian Johansson scored an 82 percent success rate, a team high. Jasperse was the iron man, taking 83 snaps and yielding to true freshman Michael Selby for the rest.
Beckley native Clint Van Horn took 38 snaps, scoring a 73 percent success rate. South Charleston's Blake Brooks played 13 snaps, scoring at 61 percent.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.