Chuck Heater is not only a great football name but it is also the name of the very good defensive coordinator for Marshall. Heater was brought on at Marshall in 2013 and immediately cut the defenses yards per play allowed y nearly a full yard. Heater has also improved that number in each year he has been in charge. As a former Florida assistant, Heater has worked with great coaches and has a good track record but last week his defense gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. While the Marshall offense and special teams didn't help with turnovers and blocked punts, the defense had plenty of problems on their own. The Marshall defense will have the biggest challenge they've had in recent memory with the Louisville offense coming to town this weekend.
The Thundering Herd defensive line is a very athletic group that does a good job getting around the edges and pressuring the quarterback. Ryan Bee is a really good pass rusher off the edge at 260 pounds. He does a good job of using his length to keep blockers off of him so that they can't manhandle him. Bee had 8.5 tackles for loss last season and he's off to a good start this year with 3.5 in two games. The opposite side of the line is strong also with Gary Thompson, who led the team in TFLs last year and Ty Tyler, who leads the team this year, having plenty of pass rushing ability as well as athleticism in the run game.
The ends aren't the problem for Marshall so far. The tackles are a different story. Marshall likes to blitz and bring pressure from angles, but every defense in America needs something from the tackle spot and Marshall is one of many teams that just has guys that eat up blocks. Nyqual Harris and Tomell One are both newcomers to the line and so far they have not made many plays that will show up on the stat sheet. They are doing a good job of eating up blocks and making room for the linebackers and safeties on blitzes and outside run plays but they will have to do more to stop the Louisville ground attack.
Marshall has been in the nickel (like most teams) for most of the season as Morgan State and Akron both run spread offenses and rarely get into any power formations at all. With that being said, Marshall's linebackers haven't really been totally settled and I'm not sure if that isn't by design. The Herd rotate a lot of players in the front seven and which has led to their leading two tacklers playing the same position. Davon Durant is the team's leading tackler but he is listed as a second teamer to their second leading tackler, Chase Hancock. Both guys can run very well and do a good job playing downhill against the run as well as being good second level blitzers.
Devontre'a Tyler is the man in the middle who is tasked with not only stuffing the inside runs on zone reads and traditional run plays, but also helping to run down Lamar Jackson when he keeps the ball outside. If and when Damien Dozier is on the field it will be interesting to see how he plays the option. Dozier is a young player who will likely be thinking a lot while on the field. As weird as it may sound, thinking is the last thing you want a defensive player doing. Guys should be out there playing free and confident so that they can play fast. Marshall has the athletes to play fast and cause some problems for UofL. But, if they're not out there playing with confidence Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff will be 20 yards down the field before they make up their mind on what they're supposed to be doing.
Marshall's secondary is a mixed bag of strong points and weak points. Corey Neely, Kendall Gant, and C.J. Reevis make up a very good group of safeties that can do everything you need from your back end. Neely is great at the line of scrimmage as a run supporter and short zone man. Gant is good as a deep safety. He can deliver a big hit and he can cover ground pretty well. Reevis is a good tackler in space and he's plenty good in run support. Neely will likely bee the man tasked with setting the edge against the run along with being the contain man on UofL's inverted veer runs. While all of these guys are good players that will be very good against the rest of Marshall's schedule, they will probably struggle to make the proper reads needed to seek out the outside runs that Louisville has killed defenses with. Where I think they will adjust from last week is in pass coverage with a safety providing some help to their cornerbacks. Louisville will likely look to film to see zero coverage with no safeties over top. Lamar Jackson could fall into a trap thinking that adjustment hasn't been made.
The cornerbacks for the Herd were exposed last week against Akron's receiving core. The Zips have one of the most productive receivers in the country and he used his size and strength to just overpower anyone Marshall threw at him. While the Cards don't have a guy that is a true "jumbo" receiver (Think Dez Bryant, Andre Johnson, etc.) They do have plenty of guys that can beat corners with size. Jamari Staples and Jaylen Smith should get plenty of targets this week down the sideline if Bobby Petrino decides to emulate what Akron did well. Akron also had a very small receiver do very well on the edges. Their 155-pound punt returner did well running guys off on comeback routes and found space against Marshall's man coverage. UofL doesn't use guys like Traveon Samuel on the outside, but James Quick ans Jamari Staples both have the skills sets to kill with routes to the sticks. Marshall will have to adjust their scheme to give their corners help over top if they don't want a repeat of last week.