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Marshall’s Mixed Defensive Fronts

Marshall can play with three, four or five defensive linemen. In Conference USA, it is a necessity.

“We’re pretty versatile and multiple,” Coach Mark Snyder said. “Just because of the league we play in, we have to have the variety.”

In an effort to hang with pass-happy schools such as Houston or Texas-El Paso, the Thundering Herd will utilize a three-man front and drop an end into coverage. In order to try to stop superior rushing teams such as Southern Mississippi, the Thundering Herd bring four or five men to the line.

Billy Hite, the Hokies’ running backs coach, said Marshall’s strength was its defense. He said it would be “tough to run the ball against them when the have eight or nine people in the box.”

After accumulating only 155 yards of total offense in a 34-24 loss to Alabama, the Hokies are looking to break out offensively against the Thundering Herd as back-to-back games loom against Nebraska and Miami in the subsequent weeks.

It will be the second straight week the Hokies will face a team that prides itself on defense. Marshall does not have quite the same caliber of personnel as the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s smothering 3-4 defense was replete with talent, including with linebackers Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower and nose guard Terrence Cody.

Marshall’s unit also starts with athletes in its front seven. The Thundering Herd have two of Conference USA’s best defensive players: end Albert McClellan and linebacker Mario Harvey.

Marshall gets its defensive versatility from McClellan. The senior can put his hand on the ground as a pass-rushing end. But at 6 feet 2, he is also built for and capable of playing in a stand-up role as a linebacker when Marshall switches to a three-down front. McClellan had five tackles, including one sack, in Marshall’s 31-28 win over division I-AA Southern Illinois last Saturday.

“We don’t ever want to show the same thing, let the offense know what’s coming,” strong safety Aston Hall said, adding that the Thundering Herd plays teams in “different fronts so they can’t attack us with one method.”

By Mark Viera  |  September 11, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
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