Herd CB Chris Jackson defends his turf
HUNTINGTON — As a football cornerback, life can be pretty stressful.
In many situations, a cornerback is the only player standing between an opposing team’s touchdown and a play being made for his defense.
While others might shy away from such a responsibility, that’s a pressure Marshall University cornerback Chris Jackson enjoys.
“Playing the position I play, which is boundary corner, it’s just a part of the game,” Jackson said.
In the last two weeks, Marshall’s defense limited two of Conference USA’s higherpowered offenses in wins over Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic. Those two teams bring a different dynamic to the table, but the Marshall defense met the challenge in both games and held both opponents below their scoring average.
Jackson is a big part of that on the back end of the defense.
“Chris Jackson has become a really good corner,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “He’s played an awful lot of football for us.”
“You have to have that killer instinct. ... Playing in the secondary is very confidence-oriented.”
Thundering Herd cornerback
Jackson is tied for 10th in FBS in passes defended with 11 — 10 pass breakups and one interception. Much of that production was in the last two weeks when he had seven pass breakups and the interception to go along with 16 tackles, which tied safety Malik Gant for the most on the team in the two-game stretch.
“You have to have that killer instinct,” Jackson said. “Even if you get beat on a play, you can’t think about that play anymore. Playing in the secondary is very confidence-oriented. You could be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t have any confidence, you probably can’t play in the secondary.”
Going into the Old Dominion matchup, Jackson had just three pass breakups in five games. However, he had four against the Monarchs while leading a secondary that limited the dangerous tandem of Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham to just eight catches and 85 yards. The ODU duo accounted for 18 catches and 251 yards in their previous game against Florida Atlantic.
Marshall focused its defense on taking away Old Dominion’s receivers, and the result was a strong performance that limited the Monarchs’ effectiveness.
“Some people say we are the weakest position group on the team in some points, some games, so it was big-time to show who we are,” Jackson said.
Last week brought a different beast as Marshall battled Florida Atlantic, which had the league’s best rushing attack, led by Devin Singletary, the Conference USA Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. With Marshall’s emphasis on Singletary, that meant an extra man focused to stop the run and the defensive backs were in several one-on-one scenarios.
The Herd secondary again rose to the challenge, making four interceptions in the 31-7 win while holding Florida Atlantic quarterbacks’ completion percentage below 50 percent. Jackson finished with six tackles, three pass breakups and one of the interceptions.
“We’re plus-six in the turnover margin the last two games, and that’s a good thing,” Holliday said. “As long as we can stay there, we’ll have a shot to win every game we play.”
As Jackson said, Marshall’s pass defense catches a lot of flak for being one of the weaker position groups. However, the numbers don’t support the claims of the secondary being a weakness of the team.
While Marshall is 112th in passing yards allowed per game, much of that is a result of the fact that the Herd also features the No. 10 rushing defense in the nation, which forces teams to abandon the run game and go to the air.
With teams looking to pass more, the secondary is facing more pass attempts, which naturally leads to an increase in yards allowed.
However, the key number to look at is Marshall’s yards allowed per pass attempt. The Herd is allowing teams an average of 6.8 yards per attempt, which is 46th nationally — a major discrepancy from the misleading nomination of being 112th out of 130 teams in passing yards allowed per game. That yards-perattempt average is tied for third in C-USA.
In the wins over Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic, the opposition was 51 of 96 passing (53.1 percent) for 536 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. That average of just 5.6 yards per pass attempt meets the Herd’s defensive goals, along with holding an opponent to less than 55 percent passing and coming out ahead in the touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Just as Jackson uses the nextplay mentality when facing adversity, he also utilizes it in the good times. That means the numbers of the last two weeks don’t matter anymore. It’s about what the defense does going forward.
“Playing on the island, it’s very tedious,” Jackson said. “You can have four straight good plays and then, you know, the one play that everyone remembers is the big play that you gave up. You have to come in with that next-play mentality and keep trying to play well every play.”
Jackson’s next play will be next week. After the Herd’s bye week, Marshall travels to meet Southern Miss at 3 p.m. Nov. 3.
MARSHALL at SOUTHERN MISS
When: 3 p.m. Nov. 3
Where: M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
TV: Stadium on Facebook
Radio: WDGG 93.-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM