#49 Marshall Football 2014 Preview

Marshall Thundering Herd

Overall Rank: #49
#1 C-USA

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Doc Holliday is somewhat of a legend in West Virginia.  In this case we are talking football, not the Wild West.  A star at West Virginia University, Holliday has taken his decades of experience to Marshall, just down the road in the same state.  Known as a great recruiter, Holliday has found success with the Thundering Herd.  He enjoyed his first 10-win season last year – a five-win boost from the season before.  His team has put up great numbers.  In Conference USA, Marshall is considered one of the big dogs.  Holliday has said himself that there are high expectations this season.

2013 Record: 10-4, 7-1
2013 Bowl: Military Bowl vs. Maryland (W 31-20)
Coach: Doc Holliday (27-24 at Marshall, 27-24 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Legg
Defensive Coordinator: Chuck Heater

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Steward Butler, RB, 762
Passing: Rakeem Cato, QB, 3,916 yards
Receiving: Tommy Shuler, WR, 1,165 yards
Tackles: Evan McKelvey, LB, 68
Sacks: James Rouse, DT, 6
Interceptions: A.J. Leggett, S, 4

Other Key Returnees: PR/KR Deandre Reaves, LB Jermaine Holmes, OL Chris Jasperse,  DL Ra’Shawde Myers

Key Losses: RB Essray Taliaferro

A team that goes 7-1 in their conference is good at everything, especially compared to their direct counterparts.  Marshall’s offensive stats were off-the-charts.  Ranked twelfth nationally, the Marshall offense put up 500 yards of offense per game.  Only six teams scored more than they did last season (42 points per game).  There is no reason to expect that the offense will take a step back.  Rakeem Cato, who is the presumed first team all-conference quarterback, will still be throwing to Tommy Shuler.  Shuler was among the most productive receivers in the nation last season (7.6 receptions per game).  Couple their offense with a stifling pass defense, and it is no surprise why Marshall was so successful all season long.  Led by A.J. Leggett, the secondary will look to reel in even more picks this season.  Despite losing their top running back Essray Taliaferro, Steward Butler has experience from last year to create a mismatch for defenses.

The main area that Holliday and the coaching staff will likely concentrate on is turnovers.  As great as they performed offensively, they were susceptible to high turnover outputs.  They lost 13 fumbles last year, which is a number that has to come down if they want to win ten or more games again.  The Herd had a plus-margin in turnovers only because Cato protected the ball well when he threw it.  One other area that could be improved is team discipline.  Their penalties and penalty yardage per game were fairly high.  Winning makes the penalties more palatable, but this team could be even more dangerous if they kept the flags off the field.  Special teams could also stand to play a bit better.  Of the three phases of the game, kick coverage was the weakest link.  

The Bottom Line:
Anything less than a conference championship would be a disappointment for the Thundering Herd in 2014.  They are returning so many good players that are going to vie for high honors when the season is over.  With Cato under center, this team can go places.  Even with the likes of Middle Tennessee, UTSA and Rice – who beat them in the championship last season – nipping at their heels, Marshall is ready to take the next step.  It is not out of the realm of possibility to expect an undefeated record for Holliday’s team.  If they accomplished that, they would be competing with the AAC and Mountain West winners for the automatic spot in the new bowl system.

Projected Bowl: Bahamas Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 205.9 (23rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 294.4 (20, 2)
Total Offense: 500.4 (12, 1)
Scoring Offense: 42.1 (7, 1)
Rushing Defense: 160.5 (57, 4)
Pass Defense: 110.9 (13, 2)
Total Defense: 368.6 (35, 5)
Scoring Defense: 22.9 (32, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.2 (46, 6)
Sacks: 2.29 (46, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.86 (54, 4)

Madness 2014 Recruit Rankings:
#185 Kendall Gant


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