HUNTINGTON – It’s another game, another opposing quarterback of note for Marshall football.
The Herd opened the season against West Virginia’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Geno Smith.
Next up was Western Carolina, with Marshall transfer Eddie Sullivan’s return to Edwards Stadium.
Last week, Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton presented the Herd with more degree of difficulty.
And this Saturday, as the Herd (1-2) heads to Houston for a Conference USA opener against Rice (1-2), the Owls are guided by junior Taylor McHargue.
“It starts with the quarterback,” MU Coach Doc Holliday said Tuesday about Rice, which has C-USA’s only 2012 victory (1-13 to date) over a BCS program, the Owls’ 25-24 comeback triumph at Kansas in Week 2.
“He’s a little bit different (than Tettleton), but he’s a playmaker for them,” Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said of McHargue, who brings 16 career starts into the game.
“He likes the ball to be in his hands, and whenever a quarterback has the ball in his hands, they make plays.
“What he likes to do is get out of the pocket, likes to run. He’s a pretty fast, pretty athletic guy, and he can throw the ball, so we’ve got to go cage him up, make him be a quarterback and throw the ball.”
The aforementioned three FBS quarterbacks all rank among the top 40 in total offense nationally (Smith 2, Tettleton 23, McHargue 36). Sullivan would be ranked 18th in FCS if he had enough games (he was suspended from the Catamounts’ opener).
Herd strong safety Dominick LeGrande, the team’s leading tackler through three games, said McHargue reminds him of Tettleton in one facet that can be crucial.
“He’s kind of the same guy, in a way,” LeGrande said. “They both like to run, and I know when it gets to third down and they need a play, he’s going to run around back there and try to create something for his team, so that’s what we’re going to try and get ready for this week.
“He’s some the same player, runs the option, too, likes to keep the ball in his hands. He’s their best player, so you’ve got to stop him.”
No. 6 Dominick LeGrande and No. 46 Jermaine Holmes will have another mobile quarterback to pursue and play against this week, in Rice's Tyler McHargue. (Herd Insider photo by Brad Helton)
Holliday said the Herd’s Week 3 preparation for Ohio’s Tettleton could be a plus.
“They’re very similar, run two tight ends, flex those guys out (like Ohio), create some formation issues, so hopefully the preparation for that game last week will carry over,” Holliday said.
“Especially in the passing game, (McHargue) is not afraid at all to pull it down and take off and run with it. Whereas Tettleton was more apt to throw the ball and make plays on the perimeter, this guy will just take it vertical, and he does a good job running the football.”
McHargue will tote the ball more than the three quarterbacks Marshall has faced.
His 50 carries in three games (for 206 yards) ranks third among FBS quarterbacks, behind Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (56) and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo (54).
“He beats you with his feet,” Holliday said of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound McHargue.
“He’s rushed for over 200 yards. He can run it, throw it, and he created issues for us a year ago with the different options, type things he runs (in Marshall’s 24-20 home win).
“They play a lot of two tight ends, but they’ll flex them out, line up in a wing tight end set, do a lot of things out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), which creates issues. They can go with four wides, also put ‘em in backfield, very versatile what they do offensively.
“They go out of a different triple (option), speed option, read option, all different things (Coach David Bailiff) does, they manufacture a lot of yards because of what their quarterback can do with his feet.”
Rice ranks near the bottom in FBS with 11 sacks allowed. Marshall, with an abundance of safety-sized players on the field (think a tweaked version of TCU’s 4-2-5), has a defense designed to play in C-USA – where the Owls are one of the most balanced teams offensively.
Rice has 613 yards on 144 rushes, and 625 yards on 99 pass attempts (61 completions).
“This is a game we’re looking forward to, not just because it’s a conference game, but we’re going to be able to do some of the stuff that we want to do now,” Taylor said.
“We want to play a lot of man (coverage), rush four guys, so we’re going to get after ‘em … It’s what our defense is designed to do, rush the quarterback, play man.”
Taylor said he felt like the Herd made significant improvement defensively in the second half of the 27-24 loss to Ohio.
The Herd held the Bobcats to 144 second-half yards, after allowing 255 in the first half, including 100 rushing yards in the second quarter alone.
“It was a few tweaks here and there, plus we stopped the penalties; they killed us,” Taylor said. “We told the coaches what we were seeing on the field (in the first half) and they came back with adjustments. It worked. We still have to be better on third down though, get off the field.”
While Rice doesn’t present the physical, experienced challenge of the Bobcats offensively, the Owls’ scheme offers plenty of options – literally. Their receivers are lettered A, B, F and Y.
“They’re going to use every formation they’ve got,” Taylor said. “They do a lot of 20 personnel (two backs, no tight ends), four receivers … they’re going to use it all.
“We’ve got to come be prepared. The quarterback likes to keep it a lot on the option read, so we’ve got to make him give it, let the running backs handle it, and swarm.
“The receivers, the different letters, I don’t know that matters. They have some bigger tight end types, but pretty much it’s all the same, guys out wide, guys inside. You’ve still got to line up and play football.
“They do run a lot of option, and they have bigger backs who can carry it or block, H-back types.
“They’re pretty well-rounded in the run game.”
LeGrande said the Herd goal isn’t focused on the program’s first win in history in Texas.
“It’s about winning, period,” he said. “We need to win, to get that tough loss (to Ohio) out of our heads.
“One-and-oh in the conference is what we need now.”