Snyder's House Rule: Good Tackling

Crisp tackling, ability to play in space crucial for Thundering Herd on Saturday.

The biggest game of the week involving a Conference USA school is undoubtedly West Virginia's tilt with the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday morning at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Mountaineers, ranked third and fourth in the two major polls this week, will make their first trip to Huntington since the World War I, and nothing would make the greenies (or Conference USA) happier than an upset of Rich Rodriguez and company.

During Tuesday afternoon's Conference USA coaches teleconference, Snyder wasn't the only head coach answering questions about the Mountaineers. East Carolina boss Skip Holtz, who has given the blue and gold two Pirate-sized scares in as many games, offered his advice in response to a question about "slowing down" the West Virginia running game.

"It's easy to sit here and talk about it, but it's a lot harder to go out there against that type of talent that they have," Holtz said. "You have to tackle well, and again that's easy to say when you're here and not out there trying to tackle (Pat White and Steve Slaton) running the ball under their arm. I think that's one of the keys."

Holtz would know. In his two games as head coach against West Virginia, his Pirates have given up just 140 yards on the ground, essentially half of the Mountaineers' average of 288 rushing yards per game during the 2005 and 2006 regular seasons.

"They're going to get those backs in some great one on one match-ups," he explained. "You're going to have to challenge your defense, run to the ball, and gang tackle. When they get those one on one match-ups, they're pretty good at making you miss in the open field. They're so explosive and do so many great things.

"(Marshall) is going to have to stampede like buffalo," he continued, with an appropriate analogy for the Thundering Herd. "When you do get put in that space, you're going to have to spend a lot of time on tackling."

Of course none of this is news to Marshall head coach Mark Snyder. The former Thundering Herd standout had a front row seat for West Virginia's 42-10 win over his team last September. In that game, the Mountaineers racked up an impressive 312 yards on the ground en route to the lopsided victory.

The Thundering Herd comes into Saturday's game on the heels of another tough season-opening loss, this time at the hands of Miami. Despite the 31-3 score in favor of the Hurricanes, Snyder saw plenty of positives from his team down in the Orange Bowl.

"I think our speed has increased," said Snyder, now in his third season at Marshall after a stint as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. "We just didn't have a chance to get the ball into our playmakers' hands very much because our quarterback was on his back most of the day. I did see a lot more speed out of a faster football team than we've had around here. We did not look out of place."

Without question, speed will play a big role in Marshall's attempt to stop -- or at least slow down -- West Virginia's Heisman Trophy-caliber backfield of Slaton and White.

"Coming into this game that we're about to come into – I heard Skip just talk about it – we're going to have to tackle in space," said Snyder, who followed Holtz on the conference call. "I thought we did that on Saturday against some very good athletes."

A common cliché in college football is that the most improvement in a team takes place between game one and game two. For Snyder and the Herd to have a chance against West Virginia, that old proverb must ring true and then some.

"The one thing we need to do is get better between week one and week two, that's for sure, because we have a good team coming in here," he noted.

"They're playing hard defensively, with a lot of emotion. Offensively they are very, very explosive. There's no where on the field that is safe."

Tackling, discipline, and minimizing big plays are a must for the Thundering Herd defense. If any or all of those key components come undone, Marshall's chances at an upset likely will as well.

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