Cato’s return has Marshall confident in 2013

Marshall coach Doc Holliday doesn’t want to see a repeat of last

year’s floundering defense.

While Marshall thrived behind quarterback Rakeem Cato, opposing

offenses ran up 43 points per game on the Thundering Herd, which

allowed at least 50 points five times.

Chris Rippon resigned as defensive coordinator a day after

Marshall finished the season 5-7. The widely traveled Chuck Heater,

who was on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida along with Holliday last

decade, was hired by Holliday from Temple to try to straighten out

a unit that returns seven starters.

”Offensively we took some strides. We got better a year ago,”

said Holliday, Marshall’s fourth-year coach. ”Defensively, we

didn’t. We’ve got to make sure that happens this year.”

He’ll try to turn things around with Heater, who’s at his 12th

school in a college coaching career that began in 1976. Heater

earned two national championship rings while on Urban Meyer’s staff

at Florida and another in 1988 at Notre Dame.

”Seeing from last year to this year, you can tell the attitude

of the defense changed,” said Marshall defensive end Jeremiah

Taylor. ”When somebody makes a play, you see the whole sideline up

and cheering, rooting them on.”

Marshall has yet to earn a berth in the Conference USA

championship game since joining the league in 2005. The key to

getting there this season could loom in the regular-season finale

Nov. 29 at home against East Division favorite East Carolina.

Marshall opens the season at home Aug. 31 against Miami

(Ohio).

Here are five things to know as Marshall looks for its third

winning season in five years:

1. CAN CATO CLICK?: Cato’s 4,201 passing yards last season were

nearly 1,100 yards more than any other Conference USA quarterback

and were the third most in school history. Cato’s 37 touchdown

passes last year were two shy of Chad Pennington’s school record 39

set in 1997. With a veteran offensive line protecting him, Cato

looks to have another great season. ”He has a totally

understanding of what we’re trying to get done offensively,”

Holliday said.

2. TOP TARGETS: Despite the loss of Aaron Dobson to the NFL,

Cato has several solid returnees in wideout Tommy Shuler and tight

end Gator Hoskins. Shuler, who’s returning from offseason foot

surgery, amassed a school-record 110 catches for 1,138 yards and

six touchdowns last year, while Hoskins had 35 catches for 374

yards and a team-high 10 scores. Penn State transfer Devon Smith is

eligible after sitting out last season. He caught 25 passes for 402

yards in 2011 for the Nittany Lions.

3. WHERE’S THE D?: Marshall lost four games a year ago by seven

points or less, and one of the reasons may have been several

injuries in the secondary. Cornerback Darryl Roberts missed all of

last season recovering from a broken ankle, and safety A.J. Leggett

sat out with a shoulder injury. Third-leading tackler D.J. Hunter

at safety joins them in a depth-filled secondary. The line is led

by Taylor, who led Marshall with 5.5 sacks and was ranked fifth in

tackles with 54. Fourth-leading tackler Jermaine Holmes is a key at

linebacker.

4. NOT SO FRIENDLY HOME: Marshall is 11-6 at home under Holliday

but went just 3-3 last season. There was a time when Joan C.

Edwards Stadium was a virtual lock for a home win. The Thundering

Herd went 91-7 there from 1990 to 2004.

5. COACHES IN FLUX: In addition to Heater, Marshall added five

other assistant coaches for this season: Adam Fuller at linebacker,

Sean Cronin at defensive end, Mike Furrey at wide receiver, Thomas

Brown at running back, and Alex Mirabal on the offensive line.

Several veteran assistants also took on new responsibilities, and

Scott Sinclair was hired as Marshall’s fifth football strength and

conditioning coach in the past two years.

Predicted order of finish in Conference USA: Second in East

Division.

Online:

AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/