HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall center Chris Jasperse was a happy giant following his football team's season opening win over Miami University. He had every right to be.
The 6-foot-4, 289-pound redshirt junior's offense was its usual self, steamrolling the RedHawks for 591 yards in a convincing 52-14 win. It was the first season-opening victory for the Thundering Herd since beating Southern Illinois to open the 2009 campaign, and the first season-opening win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since winning at Clemson to start 1999.
But when asked how fun it was, Jasperse's first words were for the Herd players on the other side of the ball.
"It's good to go out there and see your defense play the way they did tonight," he said. "It was awesome to see them go out there and get all those stops."
After spending the 2012 season as one of the nation's most maligned units, Marshall's defense used a nearly flawless second half to dominate Miami and offer a first glimpse of how much the group has improved since last year.
It's true that the RedHawks didn't enter Saturday's game with the reputation as an offensive juggernaut. Miami finished 2012 ranked 75th in total offense (385.3 yards per game) and 90th in scoring offense (23.3 points per game). But the 2012 Herd defense had been known to make bad teams look better. It gave up 38 points in a loss to UAB, which finished its season at 3-9. It allowed 41 points in a win over Houston, which finished last season 5-7.
On Saturday, it looked like, in the first half, the RedHawks might be able to stay within striking distance with the occasional big play. Miami got big gains on both of its scoring drives. RedHawks quarterback Austin Boucher found receiver Dawan Scott for a 45-yard reception on the first touchdown drive, then hit Rokeem Williams for a 47-yard gain on the second.
At halftime, those two plays made up half the 184 yards the Herd had allowed. And while those numbers might not have been spectacular, they were an improvement from last year's defense, which allowed 456.8 yards and 43.1 points per game.
Once Marshall emerged from the locker room to start the third quarter, its defense went from promising to punishing.
The Herd allowed just 55 yards for the rest of the game and pitched a second-half shutout, as Marshall's offense got going and turned a 14-14 halftime tie into a cakewalk. Boucher, who had completed nine of 12 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown at halftime, completed just one of his last 10 and threw an interception that linebacker Raheem Waiters returned 27 yards for a touchdown. Marshall recorded seven tackles for loss for the game, led by linebacker Jermaine Holmes' three, and broke up six passes.