When you think about the top defensive units in the Sun Belt, it’s hard for Troy to not be the team that immediately comes to mind.
And that’s no disrespect to other programs, but the Trojans have notoriously been known for their gritty defense. That’s especially no disrespect to Marshall.
The Thundering Herd proved they’re among the top defenses in the league. In fact, the Herd defense allowed just 16 points per game last season, which ranked first in the conference. They also only gave up 294.5 total YPG and were one of two teams — along with James Madison — that held their opponents to under 300 YPG.
Speaking of JMU, the Dukes were the top offensive team in the Sun Belt last season. Marshall held them to just 12 points in a 14-point road victory. The Herd held the second-ranked scoring offense in Appalachian State to 21 points — 14 below their average — and held the third-highest scoring offense in Georgia Southern to just 10 points.
Not to mention, the Marshall defense was a huge reason it knocked off No. 8-ranked Notre Dame in one of the biggest upsets of the college football season. The Herd forced three turnovers in the 26-21 win.
There will be plenty of returning production in 2023 from this stout defense.
Of the six returning starters, linebacker Eli Neal played one of the biggest roles in last year’s defense. Neal led the team with 98 total tackles, which was also eighth in the conference. He added 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and four passes defended.
Kerion Martin is returning as a starter at safety, and his 42 tackles ranked sixth on the team. Martin also finished with 2.5 TFLs and two pass breakups last season. Also returning in the secondary is First Team All-Conference cornerback Micah Abraham. Abraham’s six interceptions were tied for first in the conference and his 10 PBUs led the team. The redshirt senior added 36 tackles.
Safety Jadarius Green-McKnight and corner Daytione Smith will be back after providing some solid depth last year and should filter into starting roles. Green-McKnight finished with 25 tackles and one PBU while Smith secured 18 tackles to go with three PBUs.
The DBs were critical in Marshall’s top passing defense (201.5 YPG), but the defensive line was just as important. Good news for the Herd, three guys who made starts last year will be returning.
First Team All-Sun Belt selection Owen Porter will be back wreaking havoc on opposing backfields. The edge rusher’s 40 tackles were fourth on the roster while his 15 TFLs ranked first in the league and his 9.5 sacks were third.
Back alongside Porter are Elijah Alston and TyQaze Leggs. Alston tallied 22 tackles and 1.5 TFLs in 2022, and Leggs finished with 24 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and three sacks. Sam Burton is another key returner for the defense following a season where he had 35 tackles, seven TFLs, and five sacks.
It’s hard to argue that this D-Line won’t be the best in the league.
There is returning experience at all three levels, which sets Marshall up to be a top defense in the conference for another season. The Herd will need it if they’re going to compete for a division title in the tough Sun Belt East.