On the FieldTurf of the University of Charleston Stadium, still known to many people as Laidley Field, located in the shadow of the West Virginia State Capital building, the new-look 3-4 defense of new coordinator Rick Minter gave the offensive unit fits. The Herd "D" came up with nine sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions, including a 59-yard return by junior safety John Saunders who pulled a tipped ball by T.J. Drakeford in the end zone and ran the ball back to the offense's 41-yard line.
"You can't turn the ball over," said head coach Mark Snyder of the defensive win. "For those have been here before, the only way the defense can win is negative plays and turnovers. The lessons learned today was you turn the ball over you are not going to win, and you get turnovers and you will win."
Running back Terrell Edwards had a coming-out party of sorts Saturday in Charleston, rushing for 170 yards and two touchdowns. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The young offensive line of the Herd, with only starters Brian Leggett at center and Josh Evans at left guard, learned some lessons as well. Talented tackles Brandon Campbell, Branden Curry and C.J. Wood, along with juco transfer Jimmy Rodgers, were beaten on the outside with a number of different blitz looks from the defense. Five of the seven sacks were by players untouched on the outside rush.
"There were a lot of whiffs," said Snyder. "The defense is way ahead of the offense." That really is not surprising, even with new schemes on both sides of the ball. Defenses attack, while offenses must get comfortable not only with the play book but with the player to the left, to the right and behind you on that side of the ball. "They have a lot of stuff in, and that will help us down the road when we play teams that move a lot on defense."
Assistant coach Phil Ratliff, who is now coaching tackles and tight ends, said it was a good learning day for the offensive line. "We got a lot of 'teach' tape today," said the former Herd captain of the 1992 National Champion Marshall football team. "We have a lot of talented linemen, but there is no substitute for game experience and no one but Brandon Campbell has any game experience among this group." John Inman, the 2007 left tackle, has graduated and starting right tackle Daniel Baldridge is sitting out the spring with an injury.
QB Mark Cann looked for running room during the second half of Marshall's annual spring practice in Charleston on Saturday. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"Mike Cummings still runs the meetings with all the linemen and tight ends, and I am just another set of eyes. The biggest changes are I get grades on both the tackles and tight ends. The other big change is my grocery bill, because those tackles eat a lot more than two or three tight ends did when we invite the players over to eat my wife's cooking. But each of those guys bring something different to the position. Brandon Campbell has experience, but we would like him to get tougher. Branden Curry has talent, God-given talent and he has learned so much so fast. C.J. Wood is another very talented young man. Jimmy Rodgers, I love his intensity. Coming from a junior college, a lot of time you come in like that and you have to be coached-up a little. He's got a way to go, but I love his tenacity, he is very strong and brings a lot we can work with."
It was certainly not a perfect day for the defense even in the win. "There were a lot of busts over there, too," said Snyder. "That's what spring ball is all about." While the Herd passing game was completing only 10-of-38 passes for just 98 yards between the four quarterbacks in live full-go and pass skeleton drills, the running game looked to be in mid-season form.
Red-shirt freshman Terrell Edwards had his coming out party on Saturday with 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Senior Chubb Small added 11 carries for 47 yards while sophomore Darius Marshall slightly tweaked his knee and was held out after three carries for 14 yards. Add in sophomore Tyler Shick's nine yards on three carries (and not counting the QB sacks and tackles for loss, 10 for minus-45) and the MU running game produced a day of 240 yards on 38 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per rush for the running backs.
Edwards, who sat out the 2007 season while watching D. Marshall rush for 631 yards last season to lead the Herd, said the blocking of the offensive line was the key. "On one of the touchdowns, there were three linemen in front of me and I just walked in through that hole," said Edwards. Snyder loved the way both Edwards and Small ran today. "Terrell did good, he is getting better each and every day," said Snyder. "He is still finding his way a little bit but when he turns it on you see a burst out of him, and he's a big back. I was pleased with both of those guys."
The other backs that pleased Snyder were the defensive variety. Saunders and Stuart Lips, in pass skel off Gardner, both had interceptions, while passes were broken up by "gray" shirt Omar Brown, who got two, juco Josh Miller, sophomore Kevin Perry and red-shirt freshmen T.J. Drakeford and DeQuan Bembry, while sophomore linebacker Corey Hart also added two passes broken up and junior Zearrick Mathews had a pass broken up. "They were making plays," said Snyder of the young players on defense. "We are actually making plays on the ball and I haven't seen that since we got here. I like those young DBs, they have talent and they compete."
Minter said there were things to work on, but he was happy with the win and the overall effort. "We have to put things together collectively, because we're always stronger as a whole than as individuals," said Minter, a former head coach at the University of Cincinnati. "It's a day to pat them on the back and say good job, because they laid it on the line for Marshall and for the gathering of fans who showed up. I couldn't be happier for our guys because we have been tough on them, hard on them, and asked them to treat this like a game situation and the opponent today was the offense." The fans attending the practice were estimated at 2,500 for the sunny Saturday, a far cry from last season's snow, sleet and blowing winds, with temps in the 20s and wind-chills near zero in 2007.
The offense, or at least the passing offense, has a way to go. Sophomore Brian Anderson had the best day, hitting on 4-of-7 passes for 17 yards and one interception. Junior Johnathan Gardner, a transfer from Georgia Tech, was just 2-for-9 with two interceptions ( including 2-for-5 passing in the skel period, with an interception and a drop). He did hit Seth Oskins for 43 and five yards in skel for his total passing of 48 yards, but also threw an interception to Lips. Gardner did not have a completion in live 11-on-11 drills and threw the interception Saunders returned 59-yards. Junior Wes Beardain was just 1-for-12 for seven yards in both live and skel drills (1-of-7 in pass skel, but three drops by third-team receivers and tackle Sergio Glenn, as the 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive lineman ran some patterns during skel to give the receivers and tight ends a break). Anderson was sacked three times and Gardner twice.
Red-shirt freshman Mark Cann got the best education, running with the first team against the No. 1 defense. He was sacked four times, tackled for losses five times total for minus-38 yards and completed only 3-of-10 passes for 26 yards. He was at the helm, however, for both of Edward's touchdowns and knows there is a way to go before the opener with Illinois State on Labor Day weekend.
"They moved around a lot, causing some confusion for us. We didn't play well enough to win and we have a lot of work to do," said Cann. He did not give himself a high mark for the practice, when asked to grade his performance. "Not very good," said the left-hander. "Some bad decisions in the checks in the run game and I made some bad throws. The thing is to learn the new system where you don't have to think about it, just execute, and there looked like a lot of people were thinking out there. We have to see the blitzing coming and check away from it." He was impressed by the play of the secondary. "The corners have come a long way since last fall. They really played us well today."
Marshall will practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week in Huntington, but it has not been announced which practices will be open to the public. Marshall's Green-White Spring Game will be on April 26 at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and heard on ESPN 930-AM in Huntington, with a pod cast after the game of the broadcast at www.wrvc.am on the worldwide web.
Passing: Brian Anderson 7-4-1, 17 yards; Wes Beardain 12-1-0, 7 yards (1-of-7 for 7 yards in skel); Mark Cann 10-3-0, 26 yards; Johnathan Gardner 9-2-2, 48 yards.
Rushing: Terrell Edwards 21/170 (8.1 ypc), 2 TD; Darius Marshall 3/14 (4.7 ypc); Tyler Shick 3/9 (3.0 ypc); Chubb Small 11/47 (4.3 ypc).
Receiving: Terrell Edwards 1/1; Robert Henry 1/6; Payden Ludwick 1/7 (skel); Seth Oskin 2/48 (skel); Matt Parkhurst 1/0; Chuck Roberts 2/9; Chubb Small 1/3; Emmanuel Spann 3/28 (9.3 ypr).
Kicking: Craig Ratanamorn 2-2 extra-points; 2-for-4 field goals (35 and 45; missed from 42 and 59).
Defense: B.J. Evans 8 tkl, 3 tfl (-4); Kellen Harris 7 tkl; Aaron Johnson 7 tkl, 3 qbs/3 tfl (-25); Ashton Hall 5 tkl, tfl (-1); John Jacobs 5 tkl, 2 tfl (-6), qbs (-5); Phillip Gamble 4 tkl, pbu, qbs/tfl (-10); James Burkes 4 tkl; Howard King 3 tkl; DeQuan Bembry 3 tkl, pbu; Corey Hart 2 tkl, pbu, qbs/tfl (-6); John Saunders 2 tkl, int (59-yard return); Erik Vint 2 tkl; Antawn Booker 2 tkl; Brent Traylor tkl and pbu; Omar Brown tkl, 2 pbu; Scott Gray tkl; Micah Carter tkl; Johnny Jones tkl; Zearrick Mathews tkl, pbu; Michael Janac tkl, qbs/tfl (-9); Josh Miller pbu; Kevin Perry pbu; T.J. Drakeford pbu; Stuart Lips int; Shane Moore int. KEY: tkl-tackles; tfl-tackles for loss; qbs-quarterback sacks; pbu-passes broken up; and int-interceptions.