They were embarrassed. Humiliated. "Absolutely disgusted," says
Marshall free safety Chris Crocker. "For those of us who have
some pride, last year was difficult to swallow." Yes, the
Thundering Herd went 11-2 and earned its fourth consecutive bowl
win, but to the defensive players the season was a disaster. They
ranked last in the MAC and 106th in the nation against the run
(217.8 yards per game) and gave up an average of 25.7 points.
Having analyzed every play on which the Herd gave up seven or
more yards rushing in 2001, defensive coordinator Bill Wilt says,
"This year we're going to simplify things."
Thanks largely to an offense that averaged 37.3 points and a
MAC-record 505.0 yards in '01 and has 10 starters returning,
Marshall enters the season heavily favored to win its fifth MAC
championship in six years. Heisman candidate Byron Leftwich
(4,132 passing yards and 38 touchdowns) will again play
ringmaster to a dazzling aerial circus, throwing to a trio of
talented receivers in senior Darius Watts (1,417 receiving yards
and 18 touchdowns), senior Denero Marriott (800 yards, nine
touchdowns) and sophomore Josh Davis (79 catches, an NCAA
freshman record). Running back Franklin Wallace is also healthy
after rushing for 796 yards and nine TDs despite nagging
If Marshall can beat Virginia Tech on Sept. 12 in Blacksburg, it
has a good shot at going undefeated for the second time in four
years--and at gaining a BCS bid. But for the Herd to do that it
will need to be effective on both sides of the ball. "We can't
wait to flush last season down the tubes," says Wilt. "Everyone
knows how great the offense is. Imagine how great this team will
be if we get the job done on defense." --A.C.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN DAVID MERCER/MOBILE REGISTER/AP OVER THE TOP Wallace, last year's leading rusher, gives the Thundering Herd a potent ground game to complement its air show.
2001 RECORD: 11-2 (8-0, 1st in MAC)
FINAL RANKING: Not ranked AP, No. 21 coaches' poll
Yards of total offense per game for quarterback Byron Leftwich,
2.9 behind the leader, Florida quarterback Rex Grossman.
An opposing coach's view
Gifted QB Byron Leftwich will make opponents pay
"Byron Leftwich is very accurate and has a nice touch. He's got a
good arm, mobility, a tremendous understanding of what they do. I
think he's the best QB in the country.... Their wide receivers
are all equally talented. Darius Watts is very good, but if you
double-cover one, Leftwich will make you pay.... If you had to
point out a weakness, it's the defense. The safeties are very
talented, but this unit has a lot of holes.... They'll be more
aggressive because I don't know if they can stand in there and
play physical football and beat you."
Aug. 31 APPALACHIAN ST.
Sept. 12 at Virginia Tech
20 CENTRAL FLORIDA
Oct. 5 at Kent State
19 TROY STATE
26 at Central Michigan
Nov. 2 at Akron
12 MIAMI (OHIO)
23 at Ohio
30 BALL STATE