Previewing Marshall’s Offense for 2015
Quarterback Chase Litton threw for 2,605 yards and 23 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2015, benefiting from an experienced group of skill guys around him — a luxury that he won’t necessarily have in 2016. Litton lost his top two 2015 targets, Davonte Allen and Deandre Reaves, but outside receiver Deon-Tay McManus returns, along with Justin Hunt and Michael Clark, a 6'7" deep threat. Tight ends Ryan Yurachek and Emanuel Byrd also will be bigger factors.
Marshall will likely use several running backs, including Hyleck Foster, Keion Davis and Tony Pittman, to replace the losses of Devon Johnson and Remi Watson. Foster is an explosive rusher, while Davis and Pittman are more physical backs.
The experience of the offensive line helps — especially the return of senior right tackle Clint Van Horn, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Van Horn and guard Michael Selby have combined for 52 career starts on the right side of the line. Sandley Jean-Felix is back at left tackle, while Jordan Dowrey moves to left guard and Nate Devers to center after the two split starts at right guard last year.
With an experienced line and Litton in his second year leading the offense, the Herd could once again become an offensive power.
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Previewing Marshall’s Defense for 2016
Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater is going to field several new faces, none bigger than those who will be manning the secondary. With the losses of Keith Baxter (graduation) and Corey Tindal (turned pro) at cornerback, Marshall has just Rodney Allen and Antavis Rowe returning with corner experience. Heater’s system requires cornerbacks to win one-on-one battles to allow for the multiple looks in the front seven, meaning the pressure is on the duo. Safeties Tiquan Lang and C.J. Reavis, a former Virginia Tech player, will aid the corners in the early transition.
Marshall has to replace the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Evan McKelvey, and D.J. Hunter is also gone from the middle of the defense. Devontre’a Tyler and Shawn Petty have experience, but outside linebackers Davon Durant and Frankie Hernandez have to live up to expectations quickly.
Some pressure could be relieved up front with ends Gary Thompson and Ryan Bee serving as one of the more lethal duos in Conference USA. The interior defensive line lost three seniors, but the staff is high on youngsters Nyquan Harris, Tomell One, Jason Smith and Malik Thompson.
Marshall’s ability to create turnovers and three-and-outs keyed the defense in 2015, and that success was built on the unit’s experience. The Herd may have early growing pains, but the talent is there for Heater’s unit to enjoy success.
Previewing Marshall’s Specialists for 2016
This could be the biggest area of need. The Herd loses four-year starters in punter Tyler Williams and long-snapper Matt Cincotta, along with Reaves, who was the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year and the only player nationally in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns.
Placekicking was inconsistent at best last season, but Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraj return. For the program that led the nation in special teams efficiency in 2015, there are major losses that must be replaced.
The experience of Litton and the entire offensive line will help the young skill players on offense immensely, so the Herd should see improvement despite the graduation losses. Defensively, the team is young but talented, and Heater’s defense has quietly been one of the nation’s best over the last five years. A tough non-conference schedule looms, but the Herd should be in position for their fourth straight 10-win season and a run at another Conference USA title.