Marshall football: Four Herd stars earn first team All-Conference USA
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Among the most telling examples of the Marshall football team's defense's transformation from liability to league leader is the respect it earned from Conference USA coaches with the 2013 all-conference and all-freshman teams.
Of the 21 spots Thundering Herd players took up on the all-C-USA first and second teams and honorable mention list, plus the all-freshman team, 12 were found on the defensive side. The lists, picked by C-USA's 14 coaches, were released Tuesday afternoon.
The Marshall defense was crucial in the team's jump from a 5-7 record in 2012 to a 9-4 record and an East Division title in 2013. The Herd lost to Rice in last Saturday's conference title game and will play Maryland in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., on Friday, Dec. 27.
Compared to last season, when the Herd found itself at or near the bottom of most Football Bowl Subdivision defensive categories, Marshall has allowed an average of more than 44 fewer passing yards (253.5 last season to 208.9 this season), more than 45 fewer rushing yards (203.25 to 157.9), 90 fewer total yards (456.8 to 366.8) and nearly 20 fewer points (43.1 to 23.2). It also has recorded 10 more sacks (19 in 2012 to 29 this season) and seven more turnovers (19 in 2012 to 25.)
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday gives the credit to new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who replaced former coordinator Chris Rippon in the offseason, and the defensive staff, which replaced all but one member.
"I can't say enough about what Chuck Heater and that staff has done," Holliday said last week. "Our kids have confidence in Chuck. They know that he is going to put them in a position to be successful. The more the season has progressed Chuck has become more comfortable trusting the defensive guys to handle a little bit more."
Defensive lineman James Rouse, who missed all but three games in the previous two seasons with various injuries, was named to the first-team defense. He joined first-team offensive selections in receiver Tommy Shuler, tight end Gator Hoskins and center Chris Jasperse. After spending the last two years healing, Rouse returned to record 35 tackles, including 12 for a loss and four sacks. That tackles for loss total tied him for fourth best in the conference.
Rouse said last week that as much as scheme and talent has played a part in Marshall's defensive renaissance, attitude has been just as important.
"I think the defense has made its greatest strides in just being able to fight every play," he said.
"I think that's just from the offseason, the mindset that we had, that you've got to fight every play and play every down and everything will work out."
Linebacker Jermaine Holmes, who was second on the team in tackles (82) and third in tackles for loss (8.5) was a second-team selection along with quarterback Rakeem Cato, offensive tackles Garrett Scott and former Woodrow Wilson High School star Clint Van Horn and punt returner Devon Smith. Cato, last season's C-USA MVP, slipped from the first team in favor of East Carolina's Shane Carden. Carden eclipsed Cato this season in yards (3,866 to 3,579), completion percentage (71.0 to 59.3) and passer rating (152.4 to 147.6). Yet Cato threw more touchdowns (36 to 32), fewer interceptions (his nine to Carden's 10) and had the upper hand when the Herd and Pirates played for the division crown.
Cato threw for 272 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-28 passing, while Carden threw for 291 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions on 29-of-52 passing in Marshall's 59-28 win.
Running back Essray Taliaferro, defensive linemen Alex Bazzie and Ra'Shawde Myers, linebacker Evan McKelvey and defensive backs Monterius Lovett, Darryl Roberts and Corey Tindal all earned honorable mention.
Tindal led four Herd defensive players on the all-freshman team, with linebacker Stefan Houston, defensive end Gary Thompson and defensive back A.J. Leggett. Offensive lineman Michael Selby was named all-freshman on offense.
Individual awards will be announced this afternoon.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.