#61 Marshall Football 2015 Preview

Marshall Thundering Herd

Overall Rank: #61
#2 Conference USA

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Marshall was so close to a perfect season. They started 11-0 before losing an absolute thriller against Western Kentucky to close out the regular season. That overtime game ended up 67-66 in favor of the Hilltoppers. The Thundering Herd kept the good times going after that game by beating Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA championship game and dominating Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. Coach Doc Holliday returns after being rumored as a potential target for some of the big name programs looking for coaches during the offseason.

2014 Record: 13-1, 7-1
2014 Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl vs. Northern Illinois (W 52-23)
Coach: John “Doc” Holliday (40-25 at Marshall, 40-25 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Legg
Defensive Coordinator: Chuck Heater

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Devon Johnson, RB, 1,767 yards
Passing: Gunnar Holcombe, QB, 119 yards
Receiving: Davonte Allen, WR, 544 yards
Tackles: Taj Letman, S, 94
Sacks: D.J. Hunter, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: A.J. Leggett, S, 4; Taj Letman, S, 4

Other Key Returnees: RB Remi Watson, WR Angelo Jean-Louis, WR Deon-Tay McManus, WR Deandre Reaves, OL Clint Van Horn, CB Corey Tindal, P Tyler Williams

Key Losses: RB Steward Butler, QB Rakeem Cato, WR Tommy Shuler, TE Eric Frohnapfel, OL Chris Jasperse, K Justin Haig, LB Neville Hewitt, LB Jermaine Holmes, DL Arnold Blackmon, CB Darryl Roberts, DL James Rouse

Not returning is Rakeem Cato. The quarterback threw for 3,903 yards and 40 touchdowns during his senior season. He threw a touchdown pass in 46 straight games. That is absolutely amazing and could be an NCAA record that stands for quite some time. Michael Birdsong, a 6-5 transfer from James Madison, is expected to replace Cato. He has a great arm and should be a nice fit for the system. Marshall ranked second in the nation with 559.2 yards of total offense in 2014 so there is just about nowhere to go but down, yet do not expect much of a drop because of Birdsong. And with a ton of talent around him, Birdsong and the offense could even look to become number one on the total offense list. Receivers Davonte Allen, Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus are all very experienced and talented and will help lessen the blow of the loss of top wideout Tommy Shuler. Bruising back Devon Johnson had a breakout year in 2014. The former tight end rushed for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged 8.6 yards per carry and can bowl right over potential tacklers.

It is easy to remember the Western Kentucky game and assume that Marshall’s defense was subpar. However, the unit ranked first in the conference in total defense and scoring defense. Even with those 67 points, the Thundering Herd allowed just 21 points per game. But there are big holes to fill this year and this group could see more games that look like the WKU contest and less that look like the rest of the season. The front four needs to find a pass rusher and the hope is UCF transfer Blake Keller can fill that role. At linebacker, Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Neville Hewitt is gone. Another DI transfer, Shawn Petty from Maryland, will have to help fill the void. D.J. Hunter and Evan McKelvey, if he can stay healthy, do provide some experience at the position. The play of cornerback Darryl Roberts was huge for the Marshall defense last year. His ability to shutdown defenders allowed the Thundering Herd to send more blitzes at the opposing quarterback. Without him, the entire unit could take a pretty big step back if another corner cannot come close to replicating his coverage skills.

The Bottom Line:
Once again Marshall should compete for a conference title. The East Division is pretty strong and it all will likely come down to road trips to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky in November. That season finale at WKU on a Friday night could decide the C-USA East race and have even more than that on the line. By then Marshall should have all of their questions answered.

Projected Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 271.9 (7th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 287.3 (17, 2)
Total Offense: 559.2 (2, 1)
Scoring Offense: 45.6 (3, 1)
Rushing Defense: 160.2 (53, 4)
Pass Defense: 196.9 (23, 2)
Total Defense: 357.1 (31, 1)
Scoring Defense: 21.0 (18, 1)
Turnover Margin: -0.14 (71, 7)
Sacks: 2.71 (26, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (27, 4)


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