"You watch them in the first quarter, and they're as good a defense as we've played all year," Legg said. "But as the game wears on and they're back on the field and back on the field and they're back on the field, that's where the issues come in."
Such spirited early play could give Marshall's offense some trouble, as the Thundering Herd (4-3, 2-1 Conference USA) takes on the Eagles (0-7, 0-3) at noon Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. For the most part, the Herd has struggled in opening possessions.
It started the season with three straight punts against Miami (Ohio), didn't score in six of the first seven drives at Ohio, the first two series at Virginia Tech, the first three at Florida Atlantic and four of the first five against Middle Tennessee. Only against Gardner-Webb and Texas-San Antonio has the Herd started fast and jumped out to an early lead.
"At the start, we're trying to get rid of the three-and-outs," said quarterback Rakeem Cato. "That's the biggest thing we're working on."
DeBarriaus Miller leads the Eagles with 67 tackles, followed by linebacker Terrick Wright (55). Wright has moved into the middle, making room for Dylan Reda, who has returned from missing two games with a concussion. He had 14 tackles last week against North Texas.
But a lot of focus is directed at No. 98, Khryi Thornton, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior who has 28 tackles, 41/2 for loss, from his nose tackle spot.
"He's an NFL prospect, and he's got all the intangibles," Reda said. "People have to game-plan for him 100 percent; they need to come into that game knowing he's big, he's strong, he's physical, he's fast, he's got all the tools. And you really need to plan around where he is.
"You just can't double-team him ... he plays off double-teams well and he's a dominant force up front. He helps the linebackers get around and make plays because he's double-teamed so often."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.