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Marshall football: Herd focused on improving defense

That the Marshall University football team needed to improve on its defense from 2012 was no secret. And Thundering Herd Coach Doc Holliday said Wednesday that'll be one of the team's top goals heading into the 2013 season.

"You've got to be able to play defense at some point to win and get yourself in a situation you want to be in, which is win championships," Holliday said in Conference USA media day interview broadcast online from Texas. "Offensively, we made some strides and got better a year ago. Defensively, we didn't, and we've got to make sure that happens this year."

As explosive as Marshall's offense was last year, leading the nation in passing, the defense struggled mightily. In the Herd's 5-7 2012 season, it finished 101st in total defense (456.58 yards allowed per game), 104th in rushing defense (203.08 yards allowed per game) and 119th in scoring defense (43.08 points allowed per game).

After a 65-59 double-overtime loss to East Carolina in the Herd's season finale, Defensive Coordinator Chris Rippon was out. Former Temple Defensive Coordinator Chuck Heater was hired afterward, and defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said his arrival has brought change to the defense in a number of ways.

"He's pretty much changed the attitude of the defense," said Taylor, who accompanied Holliday to media day. "He has that go-get-it attitude. He's changed up the scheme a little bit. It's made it easier on us, and it gives offenses a little problem. I think we'll be good come August."

Among the changes in scheme is the addition of a fifth defensive back to the base package. In a conference - and an overall college football landscape - that is relying more and more on spread offenses, Holliday said that's a necessary move to keep the opposition from racking up huge numbers.

"You have to be able to get to that quarterback with a four-down look," Holliday said. "You've got to be very athletic in your second level and play more than just four DBs. You have to be able to match up against spread sets with nickel and even sometimes dime."

The secondary isn't the only focus in that strategy. The Herd ranked 10th in Conference USA and tied for 87th nationally with five other teams averaging 1.58 sacks per game. That inability to consistently pressure the quarterback had a hand in Marshall tying with seven other teams for 87th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with just 19 turnovers gained.

Taylor said that for Marshall to be more effective against the pass - the Herd allowed 30 touchdown passes last season - the defensive front has just as much responsibility as the rest of the unit.

"We all have to step up and do our jobs," Taylor said. "With the d-line, we have to put more pressure on the quarterback and make it throw them quicker so our DBs and linebackers can go out and make some plays."

Preseason camp begins for the Herd on Monday, Aug. 5.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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