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Marshall football: Herd’s poor defense led to Rippon’s resignation

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- The Marshall football team started the season giving up 69 points to West Virginia. It ended the season giving up 65 points to East Carolina.

Those totals - and all the totals in between that made the Thundering Herd the second-worst scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision - led to the exit of defensive coordinator Chris Rippon.

Less than 24 hours after the Herd's season-ending 65-59 loss to the Pirates in double overtime, Rippon tendered his resignation, ending his three-season stint as the Herd's top man on defense. Marshall announced the move with a short news release on its website.

"I would like to thank Chris for all of his service to our program," Coach Doc Holliday said in the release. "We wish him and his family the best."

A search for his replacement is underway.

From Holliday's comments after Friday's game, where the Herd allowed ECU to convert a fourth-and-10 and send the game into overtime, change of some sort was coming to the defense.

"We have to get better on defense, that's just it," Holliday said. "We've got to start playing better defense around here to get where we've got to go."

Marshall averaged 43.08 points allowed in 12 games, which ranked the Herd 119th out of 120 FBS teams. Marshall also finished 101st in total defense (456.58 yards allowed per game) and 105th in rushing defense (203.08 yards allowed per game).

Those numbers helped waste an offense ranked first in the FBS in passing (365.08 yards per game), sixth in total offense (534.25 ypg) and ninth in scoring (40.92 points per game).

Marshall was the only team in the top 10 in scoring offense and total offense with a losing record. The Herd allowed seven opponents to score at least 40 points and five opponents to score at least 50 points.

In Rippon's three seasons as Marshall's defensive coordinator, the Herd never averaged fewer than 28 points allowed per game. Marshall gave up 28.75 points per game in 2010 and 28.62 points per game in 2011.

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BLAKE FROHNAPFEL threw just eight passes in 11 games before replacing an injured Rakeem Cato on Friday. You wouldn't have known it following his 12-of-15, 101-yard performance against the Pirates.

That performance didn't surprise Cato.

"One thing about 'Froh' is he works hard, to the max-out," Cato said. "He pushes me all day in practice, in the weight room, off the field, on the field. I have no concerns and no doubts about him getting in a game and taking over."

With about seven minutes left in the third quarter, Cato was dragged down from behind following a completion. He said he heard something crack in his left leg, and went to the sideline to be fitted with a knee brace and have his ankle taped.

Trainers had to hold him back from returning to the field at first. But after returning to throw one red-zone incompletion, his day was done.

Frohnapfel led the Herd on two touchdown drives in regulation and threw another touchdown in the first overtime. He ran for 62 yards on three carries, including a 51-yard touchdown.

"I kind of figured that someone was going to run me down, that I wasn't going to make this," Frohnapfel said. "I was lucky enough to make it the whole way."

It was a performance that made Holliday say the redshirt freshman could factor more into the offense next season, as his mobility and size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) make him tough to bring down.

"He brings a dimension to this offense," Holliday said. "There isn't a reason he can't go in and play. He brings his legs into that offense. When you put him in there, instead of throwing the bubbles and the screens, he can beat you with his feet."

How much he'll play next year remains to be seen. Cato finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the FBS in passing yards (4,201) and completions per game (33.83) and tied for second with WVU's Geno Smith with 37 touchdown passes.

"I think I might be a change-up to defenses sometimes," Frohnapfel said. "Hopefully I can get a couple of plays here and there, but Rakeem Cato is a great quarterback."

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SOPHOMORE Tommy Shuler doesn't cut as imposing of a figure as his senior receiver counterparts Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson. At 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds, he flies a bit closer to the ground than Dobson (6-3, 200) and Wilson (6-1, 196).

But Shuler soared to single-season heights no other Marshall player has reached, catching 110 passes in 2012. That broke the previous record of 106 caught by Mike Barber in 1987. Shuler reached the mark with a 14-catch, 141-yard, two-touchdown performance against East Carolina.

He became the fifth Conference USA player, and the first underclassman, to reach the century mark in single-season catches. He finished 2012 with 110 catches, 1,138 yards and six touchdowns, a big difference from his 14-catch, 122-yard, scoreless freshman season.

"I went out all season and worked and worked and worked," Shuler said. "I told myself I was better than my freshman year. Anybody can tell you on the team, they go by the field and I'm out there by myself, working."

Cato, his teammate since the two played in Miami youth football leagues, said that work overcomes Shuler's physical limitations.

"The good part about him is he works because he knows he's kind of undersized," Cato said. "He works extra hard, even when we go home. Every ball he caught, every yard, every touchdown, he deserved it."

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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