September 4, 2008

Inside Marshall: Defense

MADISON, Wis. - During their home opener against Illinois State university, the Marshall Thundering Herd limited them to 327 yards of total offense en route to their 35-10 victory. More impressively is the fact ISU ran 83 total plays, good for an average of only 3.9 yards per play.

The Thundering Herd limited the big play and held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing on 40 attempts and notched an interception. This Saturday however, Marshall will face a tougher task when they enter Camp Randall Stadium to face off against No. 11 ranked Wisconsin.

The following is a defensive look at Marshall:

Defensive line: Knowing the Badgers racked up over 400 yards of rushing last weekend against Akron, Marshall must be able to slow the three headed attack of P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay, if they hope to find themselves in any position for the shocking upset.

Anchoring the defensive line is 6-foot-2, 253-pound returning defensive end Ian Hoskins. Joining him up front is junior James Burkes, sophomore Delvin Johnson and end Albert McClellan.

McClellan was named first team All-Conference USA in 2006 as well as defensive player of the year, but he sat out 2007 with an injury. In 2008, he is back and serves as one of the leaders of the Thundering Herd's defensive line.

Something to watch Saturday afternoon is how Marshall's defensive line will withstand UW's offensive line that has an average 43-pound difference per person. Look for Hill as well as the other Badger backs to have another big day.

Linebackers: Senior returning starter Maurice Kitchens, who finished second on the team in tackles last season, leads this unit. Against Illinois State, the middle linebacker recorded 10 tackles.

The outside linebackers Mario Harvey and Corey Hart both saw limited action in their positions last season. In their season opener they tallied five and three tackles respectively.

If the undersized Marshall defensive line is not able to slow the rushing attack of UW, most of the pressure will be placed on the linebackers.

Cornerbacks: Sophomore D.J. Wingate started the last three games of the season for the Thundering Herd in 2007. He opened the 2008 season with three tackles. On the opposite side, redshirt freshman T.J. Drakeford will have the job of covering the UW receivers. In his first collegiate game last week, Drakeford recorded seven tackles, good for third on the team.

Safeties: Arguably the Thundering Herd's best defensive player roams the field at the free safety position. Senior C.J. Spillman led the team with 131 tackles, 64 solo, a season ago and started of 2008 with much of the same by making 13 tackles.

"The one guy on defense that probably jumps out more than anybody is No. 4," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "They're free safety is all over the field and an all-conference player from a year ago."

At strong safety, Marshall will start junior Ashton Hall, who started seven games a season ago. The amount the safeties will factor into the game depends on how well the Badgers rush the ball. Regardless, look for Spillman to be involved in making many tackles throughout the game.

Special teams: Marshall will start two specialists with limited experience at the collegiate level. Place kicker Craig Ratanamorn left the Thundering Herd soccer program to try his luck as a football player.

At punter, much like UW, Marshall will start a true freshman. Kase Whitehead punted six times a week ago for an average of 41.2 yards per kick.

At kick returner, running backs Darius Marshall and Chubb Small will return kicks. Meanwhile, wide receiver Emmanuel Span and Marshall will return punts.

Prediction: UW wins 41-21.

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