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Chuck Landon: Defense costs MU another tough loss

Nov. 24, 2012 @ 12:27 AM

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Just exactly who was the team wearing all white trimmed in green that played so well during the second half Friday against East Carolina?

Why, it was Marshall.

It was the Herd everyone waited 11-plus games to see this season.

That Marshall, that Herd, that team which clicked on all cylinders finally showed for the second half here at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Guess what?

If Marshall had done that earlier in the season against Ohio or Purdue or Tulsa or UAB, the Herd wouldn't have needed a win over East Carolina to achieve bowl eligibility.

Furthermore, the 65-59 double overtime loss to the Pirates wouldn't have affected Marshall's bowl chances. The Herd already would have qualified for postseason.

So, let's play the what if game. What if Marshall had played the entire season like it did the second half against East Carolina?

"We wouldn't have lost," said quarterback Rakeem Cato. "We wouldn't have lost a game."

But that didn't happen.

Instead, Marshall waited until it was at doom's door before it finally got its act together. And even then, the Achilles Heel that has plagued Marshall all season was the deciding factor again.

The dismal Marshall defense couldn't get a stop when the Herd absolutely needed one. Instead, East Carolina scored on its last four possessions to tie the game in regulation, send it into a pair of overtimes and win.

Those defensive shortcomings defined the entire season for Marshall.

That's why there must be changes in the defensive coaching staff. It begins with third-year coordinator Chris Rippon, but shouldn't stop there.

There needs to be several changes in the defensive staff and philosophy.

And Marshall head coach Doc Holliday appears to realize it.

"We've got to get better," he said, after the season-ending loss. "We've got to start playing better defense around here."

It can't get much worse.

Coming into the East Carolina game, Marshall's national rankings included No. 116 (of 120 schools) in scoring defense (41.1 points per game), No. 106 in rushing defense (211.0 yards per game) and No. 97 in total defense (447.6 yards).

Among Conference USA's 12 members, the Herd was No. 12 in scoring defense, No. 11 in rushing defense and No. 10 in total defense.

Marshall was simply one of the very worst defenses in the country.

Yielding 65 points, 555 yards total offense and 439 yards passing to East Carolina certainly won't improve those rankings, either.

That's why changes have to be made.

Just look at the trend over the last three seasons since Holliday hired Rippon to coordinate the defense.

In 2010, Marshall was ranked No. 74 nationally in scoring defense (27.8 points), No. 71 in total defense (386.0 yards), No. 94 in pass defense (240.7 yards) and No. 55 in rush defense (145.3 yards).

But in 2011 it slipped across the board to allowing 30.2 points per game, 405.0 yards total defense, 255.2 passing yards and 149.3 rushing yards.

Then, in 2012, Marshall's defense got markedly worse. Only the pass defense improved (No. 62) and that's just because it was so easy to run against the Herd.

So, during the last three seasons Marshall's national rankings have been No. 74, No. 74 and No. 116 in scoring defense; No. 71, No. 78 and No. 97 in total defense; No. 94, No. 96 and No. 62 in pass defense; and No. 55, No 58 and No. 106 in rush defense.

The numbers don't lie.

Changes on defense must be made.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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