HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—The Rice Owls rolled up 51 points and 647 yards of total offense during last season’s double-overtime loss to The Herd.
However, that came against the 2012 Thundering Herd defense, which has become a distant memory.
Marshall faced a similar foe last week in East Carolina, a team that scored 61 points on The Herd last year in Greenville and rubbed out The Herd’s chances of going to a bowl game for the second straight year. But when the Pirates stepped on the turf at The Joan last Friday, they looked stunned, like they’d been punched in the mouth with a strong right hook.
That’s because they were. Marshall’s defense set the tone early in the game, just as it has the entire second half of the season.
“I can’t say enough about what defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and that staff has done. Our kids have confidence in Chuck,” praised Coach Doc Holliday. ‘They know that he is going to put them in a position to be successful. He did a great job last week at taking the strengths of East Carolina away. The talented ECU receiver, Justin Hardy, averaged just 8.0 yards per catch. He did a great job at taking away the strengths of that offense with our defense.”
East Carolina never recovered from the body blow and occasional haymakers The Herd was landing. Gary Thompon’s two picks were blows that stunned the Pirates and consistent pressure from the defensive line and blitz packages wore down the Pirates. Marshall’s defensive pressure, coupled with its potent offense knocked out the Pirates giving Marshall the East Division title.
Holliday and company were excited about the potential for the defense back in August as the line up started to take shape. That line up has been full of new faces and that has been part of the major turn around.
Only Alex Bazzie, Jermaine Holmes, and Monterius Lovett started last year against Rice and a week ago against East Carolina. The other eight starters have stepped into major roles. Freshmen defensive backs Tiquan Lang, Corey Tindal and rush end Gary Thompson have all played major roles in The Herd’s defense going from the worst in C-USA to one of the best.
“The more the season has progressed Chuck has become more comfortable trusting the defensive guys to handle a little bit more. I think it’s a combination of both,” said Holliday. “The young guys like Cory Tindal and Gary Thompson have given Chuck and the defensive staff the confidence that they can handle more.”
The defense’s about-face from last year has taken pressure off of the offense. Now, the offense doesn’t feel the pressure to score every time it has the ball, although that hasn’t stopped it. Marshall has scored 45 points or more in six straight games, topping 50 points on three occasions.
Meanwhile, the defense has is allowing only 19.8 points per game during the current five game winning streak.
The combination of the same potent offense with a stingy and aggressive defense has put Marshall in the C-USA Championship Game. To take another step forward in the program and win the conference title, Marshall will again need to reverse a forgetful 2012 defensive performance.