Two big problems with the 2012 season, which finished with a 5-7 record: (a) Five of the Herd's 20 turnovers were returned for defensive touchdowns and (b) MU's defense was dreadful.
But Legg was not going to use defensive woes as a crutch. You almost never hear assistants publicly complain about their team's performance on the other side of the ball, and Legg will not be an exception.
"We led the country in passing, yeah, but we were 5-7," he said. "Part of the issue we had is we didn't have much balance, we couldn't put games away and that kind of stuff. Where this year, one of the things that has helped us is, yeah, maybe we didn't lead the nation in passing but we're in the top 20, 25 in both run and pass.
"And we still finished in the top five to 10 in scoring, total offense and first downs, which is where the game's won. Maybe we went about it a little different way — we really ran the same concepts as last year, tweaked some things, added some new things, expanded it a little bit because we felt like we had an older group that can handle it. That's allowed us to be more balanced, yet at the same time more productive."
The Herd has raised its scoring average from 40.9 last year to 43.0, ranking it seventh in the FBS entering the bowl season. It is 22nd in rushing offense (211.2), 21st in passing yardage (291.2), 12th in total yardage (502.3) and a shiny fifth in third-down conversion rate (.523).
Cato took a "demotion" from C-USA MVP to Offensive Player of the Year, as he took a step behind East Carolina's Shane Carden. Big whoopin' deal.
Legg said Cato has become masterful in getting his team into the most optimal play, and that's not easy. At times, the Herd offense looks simple with limited formations and not a lot of motion, but there are enough nuances to keep a defensive coordinator up late.
"In theory we don't [have a lot of plays], but we have the ability to create 1,000 different combinations," Legg said. "It comes down to the decision-making process — what is the defense giving us? Are they defending the run and if they are, what passes are they vulnerable to? Are they defending the pass? If so, what runs are they vulnerable to?
"And we've gotten to where the kid behind center is where we wanted to get to, is becoming that guy who can recognize all those different facets. And when I give him those combinations of plays, he's hitting it at probably between 96, 98 percent being right getting us into the best possible play."
Remember, Legg engineered all this tweaking of the offense with an entirely new staff on that side. He knew line coach Alex Mirabal from his FIU days and Todd Hartley came over from defense, but Legg was not as familiar with receivers coach Mike Furrey and running backs coach Thomas Brown.
And Legg changed his position emphasis from tight ends and tackles to the quarterbacks, filling the void left when Tony Petersen went to Louisiana Tech.
By several accounts, that transition went smoothly.
"One thing about coach Petersen, he played quarterback. He was more technique-based," said Blake Frohnapfel, the No. 2 QB. "Whereas coach Legg will show us more about the offense, little things to look at that I may not necessarily have looked at before."
"What a lot of people don't know, my very first job I was a quarterback coach," Legg said. "My first full-time job I was a quarterback coach. And then I moved back to offensive line, and then I went to tight ends, then I went back to offensive line. Then I went back to quarterbacks, then back to offensive line — and then I went back to tight ends and now I'm back at quarterbacks."
And he's back in the postseason, preparing for Marshall's battle with Maryland in the Military Bowl. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
To Legg, the object is not just to win a 10th game, something Marshall has done 13 times. There are larger purposes.
"It's been rewarding from the standpoint that we've seen a lot of young guys mature," he said of this 9-4 season. "Not just in their game [but] in every facet of their life. And so from that standpoint, it's very rewarding. And as a result, there's been a lot more positives than negatives.
"We're still not all the way where we want to be. That's why this bowl is so critical, because it gives us another chance to improve, gives us another chance to develop, gives us another day to mature that much more.
"We want to keep climbing that mountain until we get to the very top, and we want to stay up there as long as the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.