After winning 33 games and going 3-0 in bowls from 2013-15, the bottom dropped out forMarshall as the Thundering Herd stumbled to 3-9 last season. A combination of injuries, a lack of offense and little defense saw Doc Holliday’s team put together its worst showing in his eight seasons at the helm. The key to a turnaround is how quickly the newcomers mix with the key holdovers. A rebound of some form should be expected but will it be enough to get Marshall back to a bowl game?
Previewing Marshall Football’s Offense for 2017
Marshall underachieved on offense in all aspects in 2016. The numbers reflected the lack of cohesion, as the Herd finished 114th nationally in total offense and 122nd in rushing offense. The opposition was able to fire at will at quarterback Chase Litton, who was pressured constantly.
For Marshall to improve in 2017, the onus is on the offensive line, which suffered myriad injuries that contributed to a lack of depth and the struggles as the season progressed. Marshall redshirted six freshman offensive linemen last season so they could get stronger in the weight room, and those players need to grow up quickly to help the Herd with depth.
After staff shuffling on the offensive side in the offseason, Litton begins his third year as a starter for the Herd, but he has to win back the trust of teammates after being suspended while injured during the final week of the regular season. There will be new weapons for Litton this season — most notably Miami transfer Tyre Brady, who sat out last season. Five of the top six receivers from last year are gone with only tight end Ryan Yurachek returning from among that group.
The rushing attack was sub-par last season — the Herd finished last in Conference USA in both rushing yards per game (108.2) and yards per rush (3.3) — but will be bolstered by junior college signee Trey Rodriguez, who was formerly at FAU, and Tyler King, who sat out last season. Leading rusher Keion Davis also returns to the backfield, as does Anthony Anderson.
Previewing Marshall Football’s Defense for 2017
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As many difficulties as Marshall’s offense had, the defense was just as porous throughout the 2016 season, finishing 107th in both yards allowed and points allowed. Much of that difficulty came from an inability to make plays in the middle of the field, whether it was the defensive front or the second level, where the linebackers struggled.
The good news for Marshall is that help is on the way. Marshall’s coaching staff moved talented defensive end Ryan Bee to the interior to add a playmaker to the mix while shifting Davon Durant and Damien Dozier to defensive end from their previous spots at linebacker. The moves were made possible because Marshall coach Doc Holliday signed a pair of talented linebackers from junior college — Donyae Moody (inside) and Artis Johnson (outside). Add in Jaquan Yulee, who was one of the Class of 2016’s top players nationally before sitting out a year as a non-qualifier, to the mix, and the Herd have plenty of talent at the second level.
The secondary will be the strength of the defense with cornerbacks Rodney Allen and Chris Jackson returning, along with safeties C.J. Reavis and Kendall Gant.
Previewing Marshall Football’s Specialists for 2017
Marshall’s placekicking was a nightmare last season as the team made just 4-of-10 attempts. However, the addition of freshman kicker Cole Phillips is expected to shore up the position. The Herd’s punting and ability to win the field position battle — something that had been a staple under Holliday — also took a hit in 2016, so punter Kaare Vedvik needs to establish consistency in that department.
Marshall is looking to erase the taste of a year in which everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Whether it was on-field execution or off-field chemistry, the Herd had countless issues during the 3–9 campaign. However, there is plenty of new talent coming in, providing reason for optimism. What remains to be seen is how the chemistry holds once adversity hits. If the Herd can solve that issue, a rebound season is in order.
National Ranking: 107
C-USA East Prediction: 5
(Chase Litton photo courtesy of Marshall Athletics)