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Marshall Football: 2021 Thundering Herd Season Preview and Prediction

The Thundering Herd rank No. 85 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Grant Wells, Marshall Thundering Herd Football

Grant Wells will try and defend their C-USA East title with rookie head coach Charles Huff taking over

A fast start is likely in order for new Marshall coach Charles Huff. The Thundering Herd return one of Conference USA’s top quarterbacks in Grant Wells and a solid group of receivers on the outside to anchor an offense that averaged 28.5 points a game last year. Marshall’s defense lost a couple of key cogs, but eight starters are back off a unit that limited teams to 13 points a contest in 2020. The Thundering Herd hosts UAB and WKU and catches FAU on the road in early November. Those three contests are likely to determine whether or not Huff can guide Marshall to another trip to the conference title game.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Marshall's Offense for 2021

Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey is the lone 2020 holdover for new head coach Charles Huff, but the offense will be vastly different in 2021. Huff's offense will be a high-octane attack predicated on the right arm of Grant Wells (2,091 yards, 18 TDs in 2020) and an aerial attack that takes advantage of the many experienced receivers — Talik Keaton and Corey Gammage — that the Herd have at their disposal.

Sheldon Evans and Rasheen Ali replace All-Conference USA running back Brenden Knox, giving the Herd more of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.

The offensive line returns mostly intact with the exception of All-America guard Cain Madden and NFL hopeful Josh Ball. Former UNC starter Billy Ross was added, giving the unit extra of experience and depth. Despite the presence of eight returning offensive starters, jelling in the new scheme is critical.

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Previewing Marshall's Defense for 2021

With Huff's aggressive style, expect Marshall to blitz often under new defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who inherits a unit that returns eight starters and led FBS in scoring defense in 2020.

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Tavante Beckett — the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year — is gone, but fellow linebackers Abraham Beauplan and Eli Neal return in the nickel look under Guidry. The secondary is led by veteran safeties Nazeeh Johnson and Brandon Drayton, along with cornerback Steven Gilmore.

The key is up front, where the Herd have depth and plenty of skill, too, despite the loss of Darius Hodge. Koby Cumberlander is a disruptive force on the edge, while Jamare Edwards leads the interior attack. Also look for Immanuel Bush to create havoc in the middle after a breakout year in 2020 that led to C-USA All-Freshman accolades.

Marshall's defense is going to look to pressure from all angles while forcing the opposition to win one-on-one battles. While the unit may give up more points in the risk-reward scheme, it also should see an uptick in turnovers with the aggressive play.

Previewing Marshall's Specialists for 2021

There is some inconsistency here. Kicker Shane Ciucci lacks leg strength. Robert LeFevre is battling freshman John McConnell for punting duties. Kickoffs were abysmal early in 2020, but Avery Musick brought better results. The Herd special teams will be coached by Jeremy Springer, who arrives after three years on staff at Arizona.

Final Analysis

The transition from Doc Holliday to Huff could not be more stark for Marshall's players. The 38-year-old Huff brings energy and an aggressive nature to both sides of the football. There is a high ceiling for this group, given the Herd's returning talent from a team that was ranked in the top 15 at one point in 2020.

Once Huff got the job, his mantra was "Close the Gap," which was aimed at Marshall's last two seasons in which the Herd were competitive but did not win a C-USA championship. If Wells can return to the form that saw him lead Marshall to a 7–0 record and No. 15 ranking, the sky is the limit for the Herd. However, if he struggles as he did in his final three games of 2020, Marshall could face a losing season, given its schedule, which includes non-conference road trips to Navy and Appalachian State. Regardless, it should be a wild ride in Huntington under Huff and a new coaching staff.

National Ranking: 85

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