HUNTINGTON — As Marshall University football defensive coordinator Brad Lambert discussed Rice’s offense, he snickered a bit. He said many of his Thundering Herd defenders probably have never seen an I-formation.
That is likely to change Saturday when those players see the scheme of Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren. The Owls will bring a punishing straight-ahead attack at the Herd on the offensive side of the football.
“They’re going to pound on you pretty good and make it a physical game,” Lambert said. “You’ve got to stop the run and try to take the ball away.”
That scheme isn’t the norm in college football these days, and Lambert said that’s the exact reason that Bloomgren runs it.
While it has not been successful so far in 2019 for the Owls, who enter Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at 0-8, Bloomgren said he is sticking by his philosophy, which he brought with him from Stanford.
“I believe in the West Coast offense,” Bloomgren said. “I believe that pounding the rock is the way we’ll win championships here.”
Despite the winless record coming into Saturday, Lambert said Rice has plenty of weapons the Herd defense has to account for, most notably running back Aston Walter and wide receivers Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell, each of whom have 524 yards receiving.
“They have the ability to move the ball,” Lambert said. “They can really run it, they’re a physical football team and they have two really good wideouts that know how to catch the ball and get open.”
The issue for the Owls has been taking care of the football, which has escaped them at critical times. Many of Rice’s turnovers have occurred in the opposing red zone on the brink of scoring.
“They’ve had some inopportune turnovers down in the red zone that’s really hurt them,” Lambert said. “They were in position to score points, win games.”
Much of the difficulty breaks down to the quarterback position, an area that does not appear like it will clear up this week. Starting quarterback Tom Stewart missed last week’s game with back issues and, according to Holmgren, his situation is still in flux. So Wiley Green or even third-string quarterback Evan Marshman likely will see playing time against the Herd. No matter the quarterback, Lambert said his group has to be ready for anything on Saturday.
In addition to the power style, Rice can also get into multiple looks.
“They formation you and put you in some tough situations,” Lambert said. “Then, they get you thinking a lot and they run right at you, so it’s a physical football team and they know what they are doing offensively, so it’s a huge challenge.”
In addition to the power looks, Rice will be deliberate with its offense, using all of the play clock to shorten a game. That comes into play when the opposition does not sustain drives and the Owls are able to churn clock. That, in turn, wears out the opposing defense.
Therefore, Marshall needs to be disciplined in its own right on both sides of the ball to take care of business against a Rice team geared toward making the game as ugly and old-school as possible.