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.