Break out the black gear for Black Friday…because the Pirates need to be brawlers to win the East division of C-USA. I hope we can pull that off.
As I was blah-blah-blahing in the last post, I truly believe that Friday will come down to individual battles, more specifically, whichever team wins more of the one-on-one fights will win the game. This means that each Pirates must be accountable to his job on any given play…no waiting for someone else to pick up the slack. Our guys should go in with the idea that they are taking names and kicking ass from opening whistle to final whistle.
So, I present today, a closer look at some of those positional battles.
Watching Shuler and Hoskins is a bit like what we had with Justin Hardy and Justin Jones, only these two receivers are on the field at the same time. Shuler is the main guy in terms of big plays and oft-looked at by QB Rakeem Cato. He and Cato have been hooking up since they were in high school together at Miami Central HS in Florida. They have unbelievable rapport and chemistry and – as we know with our own dynamic duo (Justin Hardy and Shane Carden) – that is a very dangerous combination that must be given ultimate attention. Hoskins presents a real threat in terms of mismatch. He is big, athletic and let’s face it, with a name like “Gator” and those shades he wears to help with the migraines, they guy is cool (and confident) and it shows in his play. Seriously, he plays much taller than his 6-2 frame, perhaps because of his leaping ability and his determination to make the catch. Third down and red zone are his forte and it’s not like opposing teams haven’t known that the ball is going to him and they still have not been able to really contain him. While they move these two around, the operate most efficiently out of the slot, matching them up on linebackers and safeties – ala our attack, pitting Hardy and Bryce Williams against the same ilk.
This is a huge challenge for our guys at linebacker and particularly at safety, IMO. It no doubt is going to take the village to put the clamps on these guys as our front seven is and should be focused on shutting down the run phase of the Marshall attack. This will put big-pressure on Damon Magazu and Chip Thompson to recognize and jump on these two receivers early and often. Additionally, our front three need to get hands up quickly when Cato is doing the quick passing. Cato is only 6-0 tall, gotta jam up his lanes. By now, IMO, Magz and CT should be dreaming about Nos. 1 & 26. The two of them represent 45% of the passing offense and more importantly, 66% of the pass receiving TDs on the season. While our guys can’t sleep on Penn State transfer Devon Smith or Craig Wilkins, the Pirates have to put a crimp in the routes for #1 and #26 consistently. Magz and CT have to get on these guys quick when they are in routes and bring a pounding each time they go for a catch and when it is 3rd down…Hoskins shouldn’t EVER be alone at any point from snap to end of play…he should get hit by the end, the LB and then have the safety glued to him. This will be a battle to watch on a down-by-down basis.
Marshall’s defense has gotten better too. And among the things they have excelled at is putting some pressure on the passer and a lot of that pressure comes right up the middle courtesy of defensive tackle Rouse and Sparrow. Through in the additional blitz threat from MLB Jermaine Holmes (MLB) and the Thundering Herd have the makings of a fight-club night for Will and Jordan (and center C.J.Struyk, as well). Rouse and Sparrow have combined to generate 59 tackles, 16 TFLs, and 5.5 sacks from the interior on the season. Those numbers represent set-backs our offense cannot afford to have. These two beasts in the Marshall defensive middle will be a big test for our two seasoned veterans. For Simmons, it should be just what the doctor ordered. His M.O. is that he is a pit bull on the field and he will need to let that dog out in a way he has not yet done if the Pirates are to achieve the running game they need to in this battle. Jordan, on the other side, will need the same dimension in his game. This is one of those scorecard affairs where we can watch each down and tally up scored punches and at the end of each period award the round, ala boxing…because neither guard can afford to take a play off.
The key will be extending drives. If our offense can move down the field consistently, your scorecard will show high scores for Simmons/Jordan and of course they will get stronger as the game goes. If the offense sputters at times, you will see the opposite. This is a big battle to be waged and one I will be zeroed in on.
3. Ike Harris (LT) and Tre Robertson (RT) vs Alex Bazzie (DE)
Trust me…QB Shane Carden has already memorized #53, Bazzie. He is the Herd’s disrupter on the DL. The edge-guy who gets QBs all screwed up. Yes, he has only registered one sack this season, it is more because teams work away from him than something in his abilities. He puts PRESSURE on the pocket helping his big guys in the middle clean up with sacks and chases plays to his counterpart on the opposite end (Ra’Shawde Myers who is a more than adequate clean-up guy with 4.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs). Make no mistakes…Bazzie (with 8.5 TFLs and 5 QB hurries) is the catalyst in the outside pressure scheme. He is not overly big at 6-2, 228, but he is elusive, fast and sure tackler who sets the edge well. He bounces around some and so Ike and Tre both need to be ready for this guy. In the pass pro face of the game, our tackles can’t just engage, they have to prepare for a night of major shoe shuffling out there to stay in his face. In the run game, IMO, we need to go right at him and so Ike and Tre need to break out the anger and physicality.
If they can subdue him, it will force the linebackers to get more involved in LOS play which will allow our offense to flow as it normally does. If not, then they will establish pressure with four man rush and we will be in a bind offensively.
Like ourselves, Marshall’s D is planning to find a way to shut down Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones…just a fact. They will look to employ their safeties and linebackers to jump them early and disrupt them, forcing Carden to look elsewhere. Marshall’s CBs are going to try to break up the quick strike offense by playing hard-press, man-to-man on the outside. They have to. They have no doubt watched team after team lay off our guys and us kill them so they will take that chance, betting that their speed guys at the corner can one-on-one cover our OWRs and that they can get enough pressure on Carden to not allow the OWRs to get down field.
Lovett and Roberts are both 5-11 guys who rely on speed and athleticism to make plays. I would have added Reese Wiggins to the mix in this analysis and I think he will be important down field, but I zero in on Lance and Cam. Both are 6-2, physical guys who can go up and out jump the shorter corners whether on a slant, an out, in the seam or on the fade. It really helps that Lance has had an emergence here since the UNC game and has played himself into being a factor and Cam, every time he makes a catch, it looks like he simply out-fought the other guy for it. These two, IMO, are going to be big factors in this game if Marshall’s defensive game play is working. Carden will get his OWRs in one-on-one opportunities – providing he has time to dial in on them – and with the one v one scenario, Lance and Cam give us an edge against the smaller corners. But be aware, these smaller corners are also very good corners who have shown the ability to press up and cover tight (13 PBUs and 4 INTs between them). Our bigger OWRs need to bring their A games and an attitude with them on Friday. where every opportunity has to be converted into a catch.
So, there you have my thoughts on the biggest match-ups to watch in this game. I hope to have some more thoughts on the game tomorrow.
Please let me know your thoughts guys…always love to hear them.
Go Pirates, Go!