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Marshall football: Thundering Herd takes new approach to defense after off week

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- This past week allowed the Marshall football team's defense to return to basics, to find a way to rebound from its struggles from the first half of the season.

Those problems were anything but minor.

Through its first six games, the Thundering Herd allowed an average of nearly 470 yards overall, 229 on the ground and a Football Bowl Subdivision-worst 44.5 points per game.

While Marshall's offense has been one of the best, averaging more than 558 yards and 40.5 points per game, the Thundering Herd (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA) has been on the losing end of several shootouts.

So the Herd's defense is trying to switch things up for the second half of 2012. It's changed the way it's watched film in preparing for opponents, like Southern Mississippi (0-6, 0-2), which Marshall visits at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network). And the players are changing the way they're talking to each other about getting better. Now, they say, is not the time for hurt feelings.

Film sessions are now a group affair, because stopping an offense is a group affair. Defensive end Alex Bazzie said individual film work only goes so far.

"It wasn't bettering us as a group," he said. "It was bettering us as individuals, but this isn't an individual sport."

The defense comes together to discuss what it sees. As each play rolls, the players will go through their checks like they were on the field. That way it will look familiar once they actually line up against their next adversary.

Cornerback Keith Baxter said it's been good to get all the defenders on the same page.

It bothered him that Tulsa came into Joan C. Edwards Stadium, essentially announced it would almost solely run the ball and then backed it up by gaining 250 yards on 53 carries. Group film study, he said, should help fix that.

"That's how we're going to get better," Baxter said. "You have everyone on the defense getting together as a whole, talking about how we're going to stop this team and learning our plays and learning what teams are going to do to us."

And as the defense gets together to look at film, the players said they're developing thicker skins when it comes to critiques from fellow defenders. It's not about finger pointing, corner Derrick Thomas said. The defense knows what another loss could do to Marshall's season and its hopes for a second straight bowl berth. It's about accountability.

"Everyone's got to be accountable for what they do from now on," he said. "In the beginning, people were accountable for stuff, but people weren't getting on other people as much as they should from a player-to-player aspect. They let the coaches do it, but as a team, the coaches aren't out there playing.

"We're putting it on ourselves to be more accountable - the penalties we give up, the pass interference I might give up. We're going to be more accountable for every little thing. If you make a mistake, even if it's a tiny little mistake in practice, it's going to be called out. Everything's going to be called out at this point."

That wasn't too easy at the beginning of the season, Baxter said. With so many young players in new positions and veteran transfers - like Thomas and safeties Okechukwu Okoroha and Dominick LeGrande, both formerly of Boston College - there was a feeling-out period that came with that. As the season progressed, that period ended, mainly because it had to.

"Now we all have come closer and we're able to tell each other, 'This is what you're doing wrong'" Baxter said.  "There's no arguing with each other. It's all love. It's nothing personal."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at or 304-348-1712. His blog is at


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