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Marshall football: Herd defense looks to get on same page

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It wasn't an easy film to watch.

Marshall's defense probably would have rather sat through root canal footage than review last week's performance against West Virginia.

Yet they watched.

They watched ball-carriers bounce off or scoot away for 331 rushing yards. They watched WVU quarterbacks toss for 324 passing yards. And they watched the numbers on the Mountaineers' side of the scoreboard hit 69.

"It was tough," defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said. "A lot of stuff that we looked at on film was us not being where we're supposed to be, making mental mistakes and things like that. It was tough looking at the film, but I think we learned from it."

As the Thundering Herd (0-1) prepares for their home opener versus Football Championship Subdivision foe Western Carolina (1-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday (Fox College Sports Atlantic telecast), the defense knows it must have a short memory, but it can't have amnesia.

The mistakes of last week must serve as lessons learned going forward.

One thing the defense did learn was there were too many missed tackles against the Mountaineers. That was one of the biggest factors in the Herd finishing 107th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense and scoring defense.

"We're not afraid to hit you," Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said.

"We're not very good tackling right now, but I'd rather see the kids are aggressive and will go after you. We have to continue to work on our tackling just as much the communication. You need to let the guy next to you know you know what you're doing and we're all on the same page."

The Herd had its issues with that against the Mountaineers. The personnel changes on defense had something to do with it. Former safeties like Evan McKelvey and Raheem Waiters were playing at linebacker. The secondary had experienced but new players in Boston College safety transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha and Penn State cornerback transfer Derrick Thomas.

LeGrande, a senior, knows the feeling of bouncing back from tough losses. The key, he said, was not to let the memory eat away at them.

"The thing I've been telling them is you can't lose your swagger," he said. "Once you lose your swagger, that's it. You've got to stay confident out here. (The WVU game) took a little bit of our confidence, but you've got to get it back, keep your swagger up."

Marshall's defense will try to rebound against a Catamounts team that is both familiar and foreign under center.

Former Marshall backup quarterback Eddie Sullivan - who left the Herd last November to preserve a redshirt - entered this season the projected starter. But a team-rule violation left him on the sideline for WCU's season opener versus Mars Hill College. The job went to true freshman Troy Mitchell, who earned Southern Conference Freshman of the Week honors with his performance in the 42-14 win. He completed 20 of 29 passes, gained 189 total yards and ran for two touchdowns.

Catamounts Coach Mark Speir said his decision on who would start versus Marshall probably would come today, which means the Herd had to prepare for two quarterbacks, not knowing which would begin the game and how much each would play.

But Taylor said the number of quarterbacks WCU plays takes a back seat to working on better tackling and being in the right place at the right time.

"Really, it shouldn't matter if they play two, three or four quarterbacks," he said. "We just have to go out and execute the game plan. We know Eddie. He likes to run. They'll probably use him more for the option and the quarterback draw. All we have to do is execute what we do and we'll be all right."

Speir said he expects a strong, athletic Marshall defense to bring pressure against his team. That's another area where the Herd would like to improve, as it couldn't record a sack or apply pressure to WVU quarterback Geno Smith. Marshall defenders are subscribing to the adage that a team's biggest improvements come between its first and second games, and Rippon feels the unit is on its way.

"It's going to come," Rippon said. "We all know it's going to come. The kids know it's going to come and we as coaches know it's going to come, but you want it to happen yesterday. We'll stay with them. The big step this week is us. Let us get better."

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


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