Marshall defensive coordinator Bill Wilt knows his unit doesn't get nearly as much print or air time as the Thundering Herd's highly touted offense. And frankly, he doesn't care.
"Our job is to get the ball back for the offense and hold them to one less point than we have," Wilt said.
The way Wilt sees it, his defense is earning its recognition with its play. At the beginning of the year, this would seem more of a daydream, but as Marshall prepares for Saturday's Mid-American Conference title game against Toledo, it's becoming a reality.
The Herd all but completely shut down Ball State's 4,000-yard career rusher Marcus Merriweather, limiting him to 87 yards, his second-lowest total of the year. Ohio was the No. 7 rushing team in the country with 248 yards a game. Against Marshall, the Bobcats ran for just 201.
"Our defense did a great job not only on Merriweather but taking away their passing game (177 yards)," Herd coach Bob Pruett said. "They enabled us to stay in the ball game and get the ball back for our offense in good field position to give us a chance to score and win the football game."
On more than one occasion, the defense has saved the offense and quarterback Byron Leftwich this year.
Marshall took a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter at Central Michigan but managed just a Curtis Head field goal the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the defense held the Chippewas, who were driving in the closing minutes with a chance to win, and forced a turnover on downs.
"We all know this is an offensive school," defensive back Chris Crocker said. "We came here knowing there wasn't going to be a lot of (defensive) hype. Byron is going to overshadow everybody."
This is the same defense which allowed six 100-yard rushers in four games and was ranked near the bottom in the country at the beginning of the season.
After losing the entire linebacking corps from last year, including Max Yates and Michael Owens, and left end Ralph Street, Crocker knew there would be some turbulence this year. But despite the complete 180, there's still more to be done.
"We've made some progress throughout the entire year," Wilt said. "You have to be a fool not to see that. But you don't ever reach your final destination. At least we're on the right track."
When the All-MAC team came out, the lone representative from Marshall's defense was Head as the punter. But Crocker and linemen Jamus Martin and Toriano Brown made the second team, and linebacker Duran Smith earned honorable mention.
Toledo knows it will have its hands full on Saturday. Rockets quarterback Brian Jones said the Herd's secondary is the best in the MAC. He notes their man coverage, which allows them to stack the box.
"That's a tough thing," Jones said. "You have to attack their man coverage. The biggest challenge for us will be making sure we can sustain long drives and run the ball when we need to run the ball and try to keep their explosive offense off the field."
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.