Herd football putting the ‘special’ in special teams
HUNTINGTON - As Marshall started its Tuesday practice inside the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, the Thundering Herd did so in typical fashion as it has for the last nine years.
When Marshall head coach Doc Holliday blew his whistle to signal the start of the session, the Herd went instantly into special teams work under the guidance of Holliday and special teams coordinator Todd Goebbel.
It is a formula that Holliday has ridden to success during his nine seasons with the Herd as Marshall has built one of the top special teams units in terms of efficiency over the last several years.
Holliday did not shy away from the importance of the game’s supposed ‘third phase’ on his team again this season.
“Our punt team has been tremendous changing the field position,” Holliday said. “I say it every week, and it probably sounds like a broken record, but if you can play great defense and do a great job in the kicking job, then you’ve got a shot to win every game you play. We’ve been able to do that here recently.
Marshall’s players have bought into Holliday’s emphasis to the special teams aspect and the results have shown themselves on the field with the progression throughout the season.
In week two, Holliday vowed to get things fixed after the Herd had one of its worst special teams performances in his tenure at Marshall during a win over Eastern Kentucky - a game in which the Herd had an extra point blocked, muffed two punt returns and also fumbled the second half kickoff.
After that point, Marshall went back to work fine-tuning the details of its special teams game and the proof has been in the Herd’s play, which has been vital over the last four weeks.
“I always talk about how much emphasis the coaches put on special teams,” Marshall linebacker Chase Hancock said. “I ask some of my friends that play at other schools, ‘What are your coaches doing there? How is it?’ I don’t think anyone is putting as much of an emphasis on special teams as we are.”
In each of the last four games, Marshall has had at least one major play by its punt block or punt return team that has directly led to a subsequent score.
Last weekend in the 28-25 win over FIU, that play also translated to the field goal team where the Herd got a critical third-quarter block of an attempt that kept potential points off the board in the three-point victory.
“Our special teams here the last four weeks, for sure, have been the reason why we’ve won three games,” Holliday said. “We’ve had two blocked punts for touchdowns - really three for touchdowns - and we got our hand on a field goal there.”
This week, Marshall takes on another team in Virginia Tech that has prided itself in the realm of special teams over the last three decades.
In terms of teams who have set the gold standard for special teams play, look no further than the Hokies, who made special teams a staple of their arsenal under Frank Beamer and translated that performance into victories over the last several years.
Virginia Tech (5-6) comes into Saturday’s contest with a 25-year streak of making a bowl game with many wins and several bowl opportunities having been a product of the stellar special teams play.
With the Hokies’ bowl streak on the line this weekend, Saturday’s noon contest at Lane Stadium could easily come down to which special teams unit is the most special.
“I think it could be a game-changer,” Hancock said.