Herd have reason to smile

No doubt, offense was Marshall University’s safety net during the 2012 football season.

With one of the worst defenses in Football Bowl Subdivision, the Thundering Herd had to hang their hat somewhere while finishing the year 5-7.

“We made great strides on offense – we went from 108th to fifth or sixth in the country, so for the most part we got that fixed,” said Marshall head football coach Doc Holliday, who joined Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick and men’s basketball coach Tom Herrion for Marshall University’s Coaches Caravan stop Wednesday in Parkersburg – otherwise known as Rally in the Alley.

In hopes of shoring up some holes on defense, Chuck Heater was hired as the program’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach earlier this year. Also new to the program are defensive ends coach Sean Cronin and linebackers coach Adam Fuller.

“Defensively, our kids had to mature,” Holliday said. “We added seven to eight players who were not there a year ago who were there in the spring. I thought we got better in the spring and hopefully that will continue into the fall.”

Whether the offense can duplicate the kind of numbers produced last year remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, with Rakeem Cato back at quarterback and an experienced front line the sky’s the limit.

As a sophomore, Cato ranked fifth in the country in total offense at 352.67 yards per game. He is one of seven Marshall players named to the preseason Conference USA first-team by Phil Steele magazine – the same publication which ranks the Herd 38th in the country.

“The line is improved and no longer are they a weakness – they’ve become a strength,” Holliday said. “One thing we’ve emphasized this spring is that we can’t take a step back offensively. We’ve made great strides in that area and we have to get better.”

One noticeable absence from this year’s schedule is a meeting with West Virginia University. The Herd open at home with non-conference games against Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb. On Sept. 14, Marshall and Ohio hook up in The Battle for the Bell in Athens, Ohio. The final game before the conference season opens has the Herd traveling to Blacksburg, Va., to play Virginia Tech.

“I said all along that WVU is a game that should be played,” Holliday said. “With the travel their fans have right now I think they would want to play a game that’s this close.

“I have more things to worry about than that game and I’ll leave it to (Marshall Director of Athletics) Mike Hamrick and (WVU Director of Athletics) Oliver Luck and whoever else wants to discuss it. It’s a great game that needs to be played.”

Holliday enters his fourth season with Marshall football. The Hurricane native enjoys the passion and enthusiasm created by events like Rally in the Alley.

“I’m a West Virginian and grew up in West Virginia – these are all people I don’t have an issue relating to at all,” Holliday said. “They are my kind of people.”