Pruett: Depth On Defense Will Pay Off Later

The big matchup this weekend in the Northern Illinois-Marshall contest will no doubt be the Marshall defense -still young, still feeling the effects of suspensions and injury- and the NIU offense, one not to be taken for granted. Marshall coach Bob Pruett sees both sides of the coin, in terms of his team's defensive capabilities.

"They've got those big receivers," Pruett said Thursday during practice at Marshall Stadium. "It doesn't take a Kojak badge..."

With the departure of last years' NIU receiving leader Justin McCareins, the Huskies have now found two go-to guys in the form of WR PJ Fleck (5-10, 175). Fleck's 27 catches for 345 yards this season are numbers not to be ignored. Especially by the Marshall defensive unit, which will be missing an unknown number of players due to NCAA suspensions announced earlier in the season.

"They've got a lot of skill people. They've got a very good football team," Pruett added. "They're not the same team we played here in 1999."

The downside to dealing with injuries and suspensions on the defensive side of the ball is that there has been, thus far, a pretty healthy mix of different players at different positions on defense in Marshall's three games. Most coaches would see that shuffling of players as a detriment, giving the opportunity for inconsistency to rear it's ugly head. But not Pruett. He sees it as a positive, one that will only pay back rich rewards toward the end of this 2001 season.

"One thing it is doing is, it's getting us some depth," Pruett said. "We'll have a lot of guys with a lot of game time."

Despite at least one player missing each of Marshall's first three games, the Herd defense has shown steady improvement over the season. That improvement was highlighted in a stellar third quarter stand against Bowling Green last Saturday night at Marshall Stadium. Two consecutive sacks of quarterback Andy Sahm, mixed in with a blocked BGSU punt on fourth down, effectively turned the momentum of the game to Marshall's favor.

If that's what happens by playing young (read: inexperienced) players at various positions this early in the season, then so be it. According to Pruett, his defense will only be better, stronger, and deeper as a result, going into the stretch run of the MAC Championship game and possible bowl game.

"That's good. That's the silver lining," Pruett summed up. "We'll turn a setback into a comeback."


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