AP NEWS

Herd is on a mission for takeaways at Southern Miss

November 2, 2018

HUNTINGTON - In the walls of the Marshall University football team’s defensive meeting rooms in the Shewey Building at Joan C. Edwards Stadium there is a common theme: “Mission: Takeaway.”

The Thundering Herd defense has the goal of creating turnovers to get the ball back to the offense in beneficial situations, which often leads to points.

Marshall defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has a wall for “Mission: Takeaway” where players get their picture posted when they force a takeaway.

If things keep at the Herd’s current pace, Fuller might have to find a bigger wall for the photos.

Marshall’s defensive statistics show 15 different players have had either an interception, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery this season. That means many players are getting involved in the action.

“We’ve had an uptick in our takeaways and hopefully it continues,” Fuller said. “You have to put yourself around the ball enough, and then you’ve got to have good enough players that they can react well around the ball.”

Marshall (5-2, 3-1 Conference USA) visits Southern Miss (3-4, 2-2) for a 3 p.m. Saturday contest at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg Mississippi.

The Herd is tied for 13th in the nation with 17 takeaways this season.

Southern Miss features one of C-USA’s top offenses statistically in yardage, yet the Golden Eagles lag in points per game and struggled to losses in three of their last four games. The reason? Southern Miss is struggling to hold on to the football.

Last week, three turnovers - including a 79-yard interception that was returned for a score - proved costly in a 20-17 road loss to Charlotte. It was a matchup in which the Golden Eagles outgained the 49ers, 426 yards to 224.

“They’ve got the pieces to be a good offense - and statistically they really are,” Fuller said. “I’m sure they’re frustrated. It’s never good to turn the ball over, but they’ve turned the ball over a lot in the red (zone) where it’s really taking away points.”

Prior to last week’s open date, Marshall had one of its top defensive performances in a 31-7 defeat of Florida Atlantic when the Herd created five turnovers and also had a turnover on downs that changed the game’s complexion.

Marshall safety Malik Gant said part of the key is for Herd defenders to be the aggressors and force Southern Miss into mistakes.

“If you look at a lot of people on the defense’s characteristics, everybody is aggressive, physical,” Gant said. “We all have that same mentality and it helps us during the game.”

With so many different players getting involved in “Mission: Takeaway,” Fuller said it almost takes on a mindset of its own, with the energy from one takeaway leading to more as various defenders look to get involved and, ultimately, get that picture up on the board.

“It’s a bit of a blood-in-the-water mentality when you start getting the ball out a little bit because it becomes a habit,” Fuller said. “When you start habits, you create them. That’s what were trying to do now, and they’ve been doing a good job with it.”

Just as the Herd has produced the habit of taking the ball away, Southern Miss has also produced its own habit of giving the ball up.

Southern Miss has coughed the ball up 19 times and is tied for 120th in turnovers.

The staggering number is how consistent that Southern Miss has been in coughing the ball up. In five of seven games, the Golden Eagles have had three or more turnovers.

Given the numbers, Fuller’s hope is that, when the team returns home Saturday evening, he is finding a new space to add photos on the wall.

Marshall (5-2, 3-1) at Southern Miss (3-4, 2-2)

3 p.m. Saturday, M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, Miss.

TV: Stadium on Facebook

Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM