"The guys that have been out, it's just according to how mentally sharp they are," Pruett said during Wednesday's afternoon practice at Marshall Stadium. "It's going to take them some time to get back into the swing of things."
Pruett is alluding to NCAA-mandated suspensions that affected a total of 12 players on his team -10 players for three games and two for one game- for receiving extra work benefits. Most of the suspended players were on the defensive side ofthe ball. The suspensions were handed down one day before Marshall faced no. 1 Florida on September 1. Since then, the Marshall defense has endured a somewhat shaky chemistry with different players playing from week to week.
"We're playing better teams these next three weeks, too," Pruett added. "I hope we can have the efficiency we need to win. We've got to play better run defense than we've been playing."
The Marshall defensive unit returns to full strength at the right time, according to coach Bob Pruett.
Pruett's right. The Herd gave up 222 yards on the ground to Central Michigan last week in Marshall's 42-21 win. The Marshall defense ranks smack-dab in the middle of the MAC in rushing defense, giving up an average of 165.8 yards per game. Marshall is also giving up an average of 234.8 yards per game passing to their opponents, too. The suspensions have taken their toll, it would appear.
Still, Marshall possesses a 5-1 record despite the inconsistency on defense, and that says something for the talent and depth that Pruett's defense has. Giving up those kinds of numbers while winning is an impressive sign for Marshall's remaining games, with a defense that will be back at full strength for the first time all year this weekend against Akron.
"I think Akron is one of the better teams in the league," Pruett said. The Zips gave an experienced Marshall defense fits during Marshall's 31-28 win at Akron last year, and Pruett is expecting nothing but the same from the Zips this coming Saturday, despite what statistics may say. "It'll be a dogfight, as always. All league games are," said Pruett.
Akron comes into the matchup with Marshall ranked dead last in passing offense in the MAC, giving up an average of 251.9 yards per game in the air. In terms of total defense, Akron is giving up a whopping 445 yards per game. This is known by Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich.
"That really means nothing," Leftwich said. "These guys are going to come out and play us hard." Leftwich remembers the 2000 game all too well. A last-second touchdown pass to John Cooper was all that stood between the Herd and a loss. "We put up a lot of total yards last year, and we barely escaped out of there."
In news from Wednesday's football practice...
*NFL scouts from the Indianapolis Colts and expansion-team Houston Texans visited Marshall practice this week. The scouts were observing Marshall players for this year's NFL draft.
*No yellow jerseys were spotted at practice on Wednesday, a sign that this Marshall team is healthy heading into this weekend's matchup with Akron.
*MU QB Byron Leftwich is used to getting mild media attention. All that has changed. Leftwich received an interview request from the Washington Post today, a sign that he is indeed on the national sports radar for good. The Post is also Leftwich's hometown newspaper, of sorts.