Getting Defensive in Huntington

Marshall’s New Defensive Coordinator Aims for Continued Excellence

By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The statistics speak volumes: In 2022, Marshall University’s defense stood out among the nation’s best.

Last year, the Herd defenders secured several top rankings in FBS, including No. 1 in third-down conversion percentage defense (23.5%), No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (104.67), No. 4 in rushing defense (93.0 ypg), No. 5 in turnovers gained (29), No. 6 in scoring defense (16.0 ppg), No. 6 in passes intercepted (18), No. 7 in total defense (294.5 ypg), and No. 8 in first downs defense (allowing 200 in 2022).

Following the season, Marshall’s two-year Defensive Coordinator Lance Guidry left to accept a position at Tulane University. However, before coaching a game in New Orleans, he moved on to the Miami Hurricanes in the spring.

Guidry’s role has now been taken up by Jason Semore, who joined from Georgia Tech, where he served as linebackers coach during the previous season.

Semore has the advantage of three key returning leaders on the Marshall defense: defensive end Owen Porter, linebacker Eli Neal, and defensive back Micah Abraham. All three earned preseason All-Sun Belt Conference 1st team honors.

“We’re leaning heavily on these players to uphold our defensive standards and drive our team culture,” Semore emphasized. “These individuals are mature and understand the significance of their roles.”

Semore is well aware that Marshall’s fans anticipate a robust defense once again, even with the introduction of many new faces who are expected to receive playing time. He is prepared to meet these expectations head-on.

“As a coach, I consider this part of the process,” Semore stated. “Marshall has a history of playing strong defense, and my objective is to present an even more formidable product on the field. This can be achieved by raising the bar.”

“Emphasizing meticulous execution and consistently challenging the players will contribute to their growth and effectiveness,” he added.

Among the key veterans in the fall lineup, alongside Porter, Neal, and Abraham, are defensive line stalwarts Sam Burton, Elijah Alston, TyQaze Leggs, and Isaiah Gibson. The addition of several transfer portal athletes will bolster the line’s depth.

However, vacancies remain at linebacker and defensive back, providing opportunities for freshmen and transfers to earn spots during preseason practices.

Semore underlined the significance of fostering a bond between experienced players and newcomers, particularly during fall practice.

“Our primary focus during this training camp is to establish trust,” Semore highlighted. “Given the mix of players, some new to the Sun Belt, and others new to each other, creating cohesion is pivotal. It’s crucial to develop effective communication and mutual trust.”

Another Preseason Honor for Owen Porter — Marshall’s redshirt senior defensive end, Owen Porter, has earned a spot on the 2023 Bednarik Award Watch List, according to an announcement on Monday by the Maxwell Football Club.

The Bednarik Award is an annual recognition presented to college football’s most exceptional defensive player. Porter joins a group of 85 players in FBS on the Preseason Watch List.

Porter secured his place as a 2023 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference First Team selection by both Sun Belt coaches, Phil Steele Publications, and Athlon.

Hailing from Huntington, Porter remains one of 2022’s standout players in FBS for sacks and tackles for loss, following his impressive ranking within the top-20 in both categories last season.

In 2022, Porter achieved 60 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks — both ranking him among the top three SBC players of the year.

Porter’s remarkable efforts led to his selection as a 2022 All-Sun Belt Conference First Team honoree upon the conclusion of the season.

Image Credit: Paul Swann