"It's a little bit like our offense from two years ago to last year, the improvement it made," said Holliday, who improved to 20-22 overall.
"I thought our defense would be better, No. 1, because I think we got better players. There's some new guys playing that didn't play a year ago ... we're so much further along defensively."
That bodes well for Marshall (3-2, 1-0) in a league where defense has historically risen about offense, no matter how stellar.
The past six C-USA title game winners ranked in the top three in the league in total defense. In all six games, the conference championship game winner had a higher ranked defense than its opposition, including 2010 and 2012 when C-USA's top two defenses clashed for the title.
Houston had one of the nation's top five offenses four times in the last six seasons, but only reached the title game once (2009, when the Cougars lost to Southern Miss).
It is all about defense and dealing with adversity. The Herd had plenty of the former and little of the latter in its first conference test, but that six-play sequence that ended with a field goal provided enough of a glimpse of how this team can handle a tough spot.
"That's a little window into the soul of who they are," Heater said.
Conference USA opponents can't feel good about what they see.