HUNTINGTON — As Marshall gets ready to face North Texas in a short week, there will be one main focus for the Thundering Herd against the Mean Green.
Marshall must limit the effectiveness of the North Texas rushing attack, which is the gateway to its passing game.
North Texas leads Conference USA in rushing at 203.4 yards per game, as part of a balanced offense.
When the rushing is kept in check, however, the Mean Green has struggled offensively, which Marshall players said was the focus as they get set for Friday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas.
“It’s just stopping what they do well — trying to get people out of the gaps and getting the open lanes so the quarterback and running backs can hit the hole,” Marshall defensive tackle T.J. Johnson said.
As a whole, Marshall’s defensive front has been solid against the run this year, but the statistics don’t necessarily reflect that, due to the Herd giving up chunk plays with more frequency this year.
Marshall head coach Charles Huff said those chunk plays are a result of a lack of defensive discipline at certain times, which has led to the big gains.
Last week against the Herd, Old Dominion running back Blake Watson finished with 168 yards on 26 carries, but four of those carries went for 96 of his 168 yards. Otherwise, the Herd defense stood tall against the run.
Those chunk plays have been a constant bugaboo, one that Huff wants to be cleaned up.
“It’s going to be big for us to have really good gap discipline and it’s going to be really big for us to tackle well and it’s going to be big for us to play the next play,” Huff said. “What you’ll see sometimes, they’ll go two or three plays of getting stuffed and then they’ll spit one out.”
As North Texas looks to get its linemen out to block for the run against the Herd, Marshall defensive end Sam Burton said the task for the defensive front is to match the Mean Green in physicality and execution.
“We’ve got to get after their offensive line so we can maximize our opportunities,” Burton said.
Johnson said that is what Marshall’s bread and butter has been in the past, and the Herd players are regaining that confidence and swagger as a defense in recent weeks, which includes giving up just one touchdown in the last six quarters.
“Our M.O. is to stop the run and force them to defeat us with the pass,” Johnson said. “Our secondary is getting better every week, so the D-line is going to keep applying pressure on that third down. We’ve got to emphasize stopping the run first before we can even get to the pass.”
The early downs will be where the game is won or lost for the Herd, which comes in as an 11-point favorite for Friday’s contest.
If Marshall is able to get stops in early downs by limiting the rushing attack, it will force definitive passing situations which allow the defense to bring pressure.
Should North Texas win the battle at the line and get into second- or third-and-short situations, that is where the Mean Green becomes dangerous within its offense.
“We’ve just got to go down there and just be ourselves on first and second downs,” Burton said. “Third down, that’s the money down where especially D-linemen get back to the quarterback and force bad throws or quick throws so our secondary can make plays.”
North Texas’ rushing attack is led by DeAndre Torrey, who leads Conference USA at 120.2 yards per game.