SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Wins: Morgan St, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee
Losses: Akron, Louisville, Pittsburgh, North Texas, Charlotte, Southern Miss, Old Dominion, Florida International, WKU
Notes: 2016 saw the Herd take a major step back. After having been a dominate force in CUSA in previous years, Marshall violently fell into oblivion. The defense started the season giving up 205 points and 2,204 yards to opposing offenses in the first 4 games of the season, while losing 3 of tje 4 games by an average of more than 3 touchdowns. The exception being a season opening victory over FCS Morgan St.
The season never got any better for the Herd. The offense stopped scoring as the season continued. Ending 2016 with a 60-6 loss to WKU. A game the Hilltoppers could have easily padded on more if not for calling off the dogs.
QB Chase Litton returns to lead the Thundering Herd offense. Litton hit on 62% of his passes for 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 2016. Litton will have to deal with a reset to his receiving corp though. The unit should be better in 2017 if the young receivers emerge and the transfers pan out. Miami (FL) transfer Tyre Brady comes to Marshall with just 112 receiving yards to his name for the Canes. However, that immediately makes him one of the more experienced receivers on the Marshall roster. JUCO transfers WR Marcel Williams and TE Armani Levias are expected to contribute immediately with Levias expected to back up senior TE Ryan Yurachek. The senior tied for the team lead with 5 receiving touchdowns in 2016, while catching 80% of the passes that were thrown his way. Former 4-star wide out and one time UCLA commit Darian Owens figures to factor into the conversation as well.
A key to the Herd's success, as with any good team, will be running the football. Marshall has seen a reduction in rushing yards in each of the past 3 seasons. 2014 saw the Herd post 3,807 yards on the ground. In 2015 that number dropped to 2,196 rushing yards. In 2016 that number cratered with just 1,298 yards with only 12 touchdowns, and saw the Herd held under 100 yards on the ground in 6 of their final 8 games. What the Marshall ground attack will lack in speed they will more than make up for in size. Keion Davis (6'1", 215) and Anthony Anderson (6'2", 250) should be good in short yardage situations and more than able nickel and dime teams down the field. Don't expect to see either one breaking off big runs of 50+ yards.
Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch
RS Junior DE Ryan Bee is a 6'7", 270 pound imposing figure along the defensive line. Bee was one of the few bright spots for the Herd defense in 2016. Recording 54 tackles to go along with 6.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Marshall returns 5 of it's top 6 tacklers on defense in 2017. While the defensive unit was pretty inept against both the run and the pass in 2016; the returning experience mixed with some incoming talent from Miami (FL) transfer linebacker Juwon Young to go go along with JUCO linebackers Donyae Moody and Artis Johnson. Not to mention highly touted freshman linebacker Jaquan Yulee should be ready to go from day 1 as well. Marshall could have one of the best linebacking corps in CUSA this season. As well as a very strong defensive front. The Herd will have to do much better against defending the run this season however. Marshall gave up 200+ yards per game and 3+ touchdowns in 7 of their final 10 games in 2016. Allowing over 5 yards per carry to opposing offenses with regularity. If they can shore up their run defense and force teams to pass in 3rd and long situations than they could get back to Marshall defensive level of 2014 and 2015.
Alex Hawley/OVP Sports
Hyleck Foster is a decent enough punt returner. Amoreto Curraj was woefully inefficient kicking the ball in 2016. Curraj missed three PAT's and was 0-5 on FG attempts over 40 yards. While he did hit 4-5 FG under 40 yards, he will have to be much better for the Marshall special teams unit to see marked improvement in 2017.
Holiday could find himself on the hot seat if Marshall isn't able to bounce back immediately in 2017. The question is not if the Herd will bounce back, but when. I do not think Herd fans would be able to stomach a slow rebuilding process. From a pure talent perspective, Marshall has the pieces to be competitive in pretty much every game on their schedule. Whether that talent can come together collectively will remain to be seen. The out of conference schedule alone should make things easier on the Herd this season without the likes of Louisville and Pittsburgh to deal with. I think Marshall will take a step back in the right direction this season. But I just don't seem them vaulting back up the CUSA ladder that quickly with some improved sides in the east division.
Schedule & Prediction:
Sept. 2 vs Miami (OH)
Sept. 9 @ NC State
Sept. 16 vs Kent St
Sept. 30 @ Cincinnati
Oct. 7 @ Charlotte
Oct. 14 vs Old Dominion
Oct. 20 @ Middle Tennessee
Oct. 28 vs Florida International
Nov. 3 @ Florida Atlantic
Nov. 11 vs WKU
Nov. 18 @ UTSA
Nov. 25 vs Southern Miss
Projected Wins: Miami (OH), Kent St, Charlotte, Florida International, Southern Miss
Projected Losses: NC State, Cincinnati, Old Dominion, MTSU, Florida Atlantic, WKU, UTSA