MU needs special teams fix

September 9, 2018

Marshall needs to hire a special teams coach.

There, I said it. Somebody certainly needed to address the fumbling, bumbling, stumbling elephant in the room. After all, Marshall is two-for-two. MU has played two games and its special teams play has been horrific in both. Being consistently bad is not the sort of consistency any football program strives to have. Yet, so far, that is the case for Marshall.

Take, for example, the Herd’s 32-16 win over FCS program Eastern Kentucky Saturday night before about 21,000 fans in Edwards Stadium. It couldn’t have been a bigger nightmare if Freddie Krueger were coaching Marshall’s special teams.

It began on Eastern Kentucky’s very first possession. After allowing a first down, Marshall’s defense stiffened and forced the Colonels’ Phillip Richards to punt. It wasn’t a particularly good punt, but the 39-yarder bounced off Marshall’s Jestin Morrow and Eastern Kentucky’s Jaelin Carter recovered. That was just the beginning of a night filled with special teams snafus.

Next, Marshall place-kicker Justin Rohrwasser had his extra-point kick blocked after Obi Obialo had caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Green.

Then, to make the first quarter complete, the Herd’s kickoff team committed a five-yard penalty.

So, was it just a case of the home opener jitters?

No, unfortunately.

With 12:21 to play in the second quarter the identical punt team snafu occurred again. This time punter Sam Hayworth’s kick bounced off MU’s Xavier Gaines and EKU recovered the fumble at Marshall’s 19. That led to a Colonels’ touchdown on a two-yard run by L.J. Scott to cut MU’s lead to 13-6.

At that point, Marshall’s punts were Eastern Kentucky’s most productive plays.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, EKU’s squib kick bounced off Tyler King’s knee and the Colonels recovered at Marshall’s 30-yard line. And, again, the Colonels cashed in on the special teams turnover as running back Alonzo Booth rumbled into the end zone on a seven-yard run to narrow Marshall’s lead to 20-13 with 12:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Could Marshall’s special teams get anymore un-special? Uh, yes. With 2:42 remaining in the third quarter, there was a false start penalty on — who else? — Marshall’s punt team. Then, in the fourth quarter, MU had a punt blocked. So, what’s the answer? Hiring a special teams coach would be a giant step in the right direction. Particularly, since the NCAA allowed FBS programs to hire a 10th assistant coach for this season. Instead, MU employs a defensive ends coach, a defensive tackles coach, a cornerbacks coach and a defensive coordinator who doubles as the safeties coach.

Remember when there was one defensive line coach and one secondary coach? Well, if special teams are as special as it is made out to be, it seems to me that one of these specialization assistant roles should be filled with a full-time special teams coach.

The frightening part?

That problem can’t be fixed this season.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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