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Boilermakers' defense will put the heat on Herd

HUNTINGTON - At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Marshall coach Doc Holliday paid high compliments to Purdue's defense.

Higher compliments, certainly, than to his own.

"I'm not going to sit there and tell you I'm happy with our defense; I'm not," Holliday said after his gave up 647 total yards at Rice. "We have to get better in that area, and we're going to work extremely hard to get that done."

While Marshall's defense is a work in progress - or a work in search of progress - Purdue's defense is putting up solid numbers.

The Boilermakers (2-1) are in the top 25 in five categories: total defense (17th, 294.67), scoring defense (12th, 14.00), rushing defense (25th, 110.33), pass efficiency defense (12th, 95.27 rating) and sacks (19th, 3.0). One caveat: Two-thirds of those stats were aided by runaway wins over Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan.

Then again, Purdue's defense also played Notre Dame, then ranked 22nd, and played well enough to win. The Boilermakers held the Fighting Irish to 52 rushing yards, forcing them to throw for 324 yards and rally for a winning field goal in the final seconds.

It will take a more Herculean effort for Rakeem Cato and the Thundering Herd to match their gaudy numbers after four games.

"In their front four, there are probably a couple of guys who are going to be first- or second-round draft picks," Holliday said. "They've got an inside guy that is named [Kawann] Short who is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, is an excellent player. And then [Bruce] Gaston, the other inside guy, is 295. They've got an end, 99 [Ryan Russell], who is 6-foot-5, 275 pounds.

"The entire front four can play for anybody, and it's a talented bunch."

Which puts an added onus on the offensive line, which eventually plowed over a weary, outmatched Rice defensive line last week. But it isn't all about the offensive line, as both coaches discussed on Tuesday.

The Marshall offense continues to not only lead the nation in passing yardage (383.5), but in total plays (371, averaging 92.7). The hyper-tempo offense can fatigue a defensive line and a quick passing game helps keep your quarterback upright. It might even open up the running game, to some extent.

"We can do a lot of things with our offense that we don't need to block the front guys as long," Holliday said. "We have some things in our offense now that can allow Cato to get the ball out of his hands quick. We have the ability to run the ball if they give it to us. We have the screen game to where we don't have to block those guys as long.

"That's a good thing because they are really good. I've watched our offensive line and they've gotten better. At some point, we have to be able to block them and we will."

Other items from Holliday's press conference, and beyond:

  • Holliday used a successful defensive play to illustrate that unit's youth, and how far it could improve.
  • "I'm not going to make excuses for them. We just have to make plays," he said. "When you look at that deal at the end of the game where we made that play [keeping Rice from scoring a touchdown late in regulation], D.J. Hunter made the play there, but you also had [tackles] Jarquez Samuel and Steve Dillon in there as freshmen - so you've got freshman-freshman-freshman in there at the end, when [Rice] had the ball at the 2-yard line, and they found a way to get it done, which is critical.

    "We will get better there. We have to. There is no choice."

  • Holliday said punter Tyler Williams will go on scholarship in January, a reward for his impact on field position. Williams was named Conference USA's special teams player of the week after averaging more than 50 yards on five punts.
  • "I can tell you I thank my lucky stars we have him," Holliday said. "During the summer, I didn't think we had anybody that could punt the ball. He's such a tremendous kid. He's third in the country in net punting [44.07], and that is the important thing."

  • Offensive line grades have been unveiled for the first time. Last weekend at Rice, left tackle Jordan Jeffries went all 90 plays (including those nullified by penalty) and led the unit with an 80 percent grade. John Bruhin also tallied an 80 percent grade in 48 plays.
  • Chris Jasperse, who has been the only Herd center used except in mop-up situations, leads the team with 354 plays. Jeffries is second with 343, followed by tackle Gage Niemeyer at 312. Garrett Scott, the starting right guard who was injured in the season opener at WVU and returned at Rice, has played 31 snaps.

  • Purdue has drawn 40,000 and change for its two home games, leaving some empties in the 62,500-seat Ross-Ade Stadium. However hostile or benign Purdue fans may be, Holliday just wants to play in front of fans.
  • Any fans. He saw the other end of the spectrum at Rice.

    "In all my years of coaching, I don't know if I've been at a tougher environment to go play as a football team," he said. "Not only with the heat and the weather and all that, you walk in there and there's 200 people in the stands, it seems. You walk out there and it's 130 on the field and there's nobody there."

  • Roster notes: Shawn Samuels, the redshirt freshman listed as second-string strong safety, changed his jersey number from 35 to 17. That would avoid a special-teams conflict with the offensive No. 35, running back Remi Watson.
  • Another freshman walk-on, wide receiver Trey Wilds, has left the program.

  • And finally, a two-deep oddity: Before the WVU game, Holliday listed Travon Van and Essray Taliaferro at running back. Taliaferro had seven carries against Western Carolina and none in the other three games.
  • And Van is now a cornerback.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com.


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