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Herd return to glory?

MU football
Sep. 02, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Chad Pennington knows a thing or two about successful teams at Marshall University.

In his Marshall career, Pennington finished with a 45-6 record and led the Thundering Herd to its first bowl win in 1998 and a perfect 13-0 season and No. 10 national ranking to cap his Herd career in 1999.

Chances are, when he speaks about Marshall football, everyone listens to what he has to say.

He had plenty to say after watching the Herd's 52-14 dismantling of Miami (Ohio) on Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

"It was so fun to watch because it reminded me of Marshall football in the 1990s," Pennington said. "Someone comes in our stadium and leaves disappointed, and the fans are happy with a great Herd performance. That's one of the first times I've felt like I was actually watching true Marshall football in quite a while."

Those are pretty strong words from a guy who set the gold standard for the Marshall football brand.

As Pennington and his family watched the game from the newly-constructed $3.3 million suites that sit atop Joan C. Edwards Stadium, he saw a return to the form that made the Herd so successful during his tenure.

There was aerial attack in which the Herd could strike at any moment, which was evidenced by Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato's five touchdown passes.

There was also the running game and the physical nature that essentially pounded the will out of the opposing defense. Marshall finished with 304 yards on the ground in Saturday's win.

But most importantly, there was the physical, swarming defense that did not give up yards or points with any regularity.

Many want to point at Pennington and the offense for the success of the 1999 season, but it was also a defense that allowed just 10.5 points per game with only one opponent scoring more than 17 points in the entire year.

After a 2012 season in which Marshall's defense was often criticized for their play, Pennington said the defensive resurgence shown on Saturday was one of the most exciting aspects of the game.

"It's refreshing to see our defense flying around, making plays, being physical and taking the aggression to the offense instead of sitting back and waiting," Pennington said. "It's a totally different attitude. Coach Heater has come in and done an excellent job. I remember Doc telling me that he was the real deal and he would turn us around. So far, so good."

On Saturday, Pennington and his entire family watched as Marshall dismantled Miami, who was the Herd's biggest threat in the Mid-American Conference's East division when Pennington was leading the Herd to three consecutive Mid-American Conference titles in the team's first three years back at the Division I level.

He admitted he still got that rivalry itch seeing the RedHawks on the opposing sidelines.

"Yeah, and I know (Marshall athletic director Mike) Hamrick was really fired up about it," Pennington said with a smile.

Pennington said with the talent and level of play he saw on Saturday, Marshall could be headed for a special season, if the team stays in the right mindset.

"The biggest challenge for our team this year is not going to be our opponent," Pennington said. "It's going to be our team itself -- how they respond to success. It's one thing to respond to adversity, but it's another to respond to success correctly."

The Herd will see first-hand how it responds to a big win next week when FCS-member Gardner-Webb comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a 6:30 p.m. matchup on Saturday.

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