2013 Marshall football's 10 things to know: Your future overlords

Justin K. Aller

Doc Holliday has done a rather stunning job of amassing star recruits in three years at Marshall, but he only has 20 wins to show for it. If a breakthrough is going to come, it should come pretty quickly; and if it does, the Thundering Herd could become the preeminent power in the Future C-USA. Peace, love, and pannkaka blockeras.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Posting up

Following the 2012 college football season, Conference USA lost Houston, Memphis, SMU, and UCF to the new American Athletic Conference, also known as the old Big East. In 2014, the conference will lose East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. As compensation, C-USA raided the Sun Belt for FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, and (in 2014) Western Kentucky; it also got creative in bringing on Charlotte, Old Dominion, and UTSA, mostly unestablished football programs, with an eye toward the future.

One can see these moves working out reasonably well for the conference long-term. C-USA could establish mid-major footholds (whatever that's actually worth to you) in or near Miami (FAU and FIU), Dallas (UNT), San Antonio (UTSA), Charlotte, Norfolk/Richmond (ODU), and Nashville (MTSU). From a 20,000-foot view, these moves make relative sense.

In the short-term, however, realignment will shortly have siphoned away most of C-USA's established football quality. In fact, teams that have won 13.5 of C-USA's 17 conference football championships will no longer be a part of the conference beginning in 2014. Only Southern Miss (co-title with Houston in 1996, outright in 1999, 2003, and 2011) will remain.

Aside from perhaps Southern Miss again, what current and future C-USA program is most likely to take advantage of this watered down league? To answer that, we should probably check up on what's happening in Huntington, West Virginia.

2. Doc Holliday is persuasive

In three years as Marshall's head coach, Doc Holliday, a former ace recruiter at N.C. State, Florida, and West Virginia, has proven to be ... an ace recruiter. Marshall's two-year recruiting ranking of 65th places the Thundering Herd ahead of Duke (67th), Boise State (68th), Georgia Tech (69th), BYU (70th), Syracuse (72nd), UConn (73rd), Boston College (76th), and UCF (80th), among others. When combined with transfers he has brought in, Holliday has compiled a roster with nearly as many three- and four-star recruits as the rest of C-USA combined.

Thus far, this influx of (perceived) talent has not made much of a difference on the field. In his fianl four seasons at Marshall (2006-09), former coach Mark Snyder averaged 4.8 wins per year. In three seasons, Holliday has averaged 5.7. Marshall eked out bowl eligibility with five one-possession wins in 2011, then upset future conference mate FIU in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, but the Herd fell back to 5-7 in 2012.

In terms of F/+ rankings, there has certainly been improvement in the last couple of years. After first-year regression to 102nd in the country, Marshall improved to 84th in 2011 and 82nd in 2012. But at some point, results need to match recruiting. With 15 starters returning from a squad that broke through on offense and regressed on defense, Holliday could begin to put the pieces together in 2013. Or at least, he should.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 82
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep West Virginia 34-69 L 21.3 - 48.0 L
8-Sep Western Carolina 52-24 W 25.7 - 43.5 L
15-Sep Ohio 24-27 L 30.3 - 21.3 W
22-Sep at Rice 54-51 W 36.3 - 37.4 L
29-Sep at Purdue 41-51 L 31.8 - 24.9 W
6-Oct Tulsa 38-45 L 38.8 - 27.7 W
20-Oct at Southern Miss 59-24 W 37.3 - 26.3 W
27-Oct Central Florida 17-54 L 17.3 - 43.3 L
3-Nov Memphis 38-28 W 36.0 - 28.6 W
10-Nov at UAB 31-38 L 17.9 - 29.8 L
17-Nov Houston 44-41 W 33.5 - 28.1 W
23-Nov at East Carolina 59-65 L 37.0 - 40.1 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 40.9 7 43.1 123
Adj. Points Per Game 30.2 51 33.3 104

3. Either solid or terrible, no in between

Marshall spent most of the 2012 season playing relatively well, but a few ill-timed eggs skewed its averages a decent amount.

Adj. Points Per Game (WVU, WCU, UCF games): Opponent 44.9, Marshall 21.4 (minus-23.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (other 9 games): Marshall 33.2, Opponent 29.4 (plus-3.8)

These eggs weren't the primary cause for the Thundering Herd's poor record -- even playing well, the odds were decent that they might lose to solid WVU and UCF teams, and they still were going to beat Western Carolina no matter what -- but typically these types of random lapses signify youth and inexperience, of which Marshall still had plenty in 2012. A combination of inexperience and bad luck (regression toward the mean, perhaps) probably also contributed to Marshall's 2-4 record in one-possession games. Go 4-2, and you're bowling for the second straight year.

Regardless, aside from these three games, Marshall WAS a solid, competitive team. With more experience comes, in theory, more consistency.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 6 64 59 71
RUSHING 55 85 102 72
PASSING 1 57 31 80
Standard Downs 82 70 91
Passing Downs 42 45 44
Redzone 50 55 49
Q1 Rk 101 1st Down Rk 100
Q2 Rk 56 2nd Down Rk 62
Q3 Rk 53 3rd Down Rk 22
Q4 Rk 69

4. A surge without the handcuffs

As the 2012 season approached, offensive coordinator Bill Legg spoke giddily about "taking the handcuffs off" of the offense. The 2012 offense was experienced enough that, in his third year in charge of the Marshall offense, Legg was finally going to be able to do what he wanted.

The difference was obvious and immediate. After ranking 107th in Off. F/+ in 2010 and 98th in 2011, Marshall surged to 31st last fall. Quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 40 touchdowns, three receivers were targeted at least seven times per game, and another nine were targeted at least once per game. Marshall operated at the fastest pace in the country, turning decent per-play averages into monstrous per-game totals and wearing opposing defenses down. The Thundering Herd tended to start slowly (101st in Q1 S&P+) but found a nice rhythm after the opening minutes (56th, 53rd, and 69th in Q2-Q4 S&P+, respectively).

Marshall probably shouldn't expect another such surge in 2013, simply because another surge of that magnitude isn't possible. But decent improvement could follow the return of Cato, leading receiver Tommy Shuler, the top three running backs, and a whopping eight linemen with starting experience. Of course, the experienced players will have to fend off some interesting young guys, as well.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Rakeem Cato 6'0, 184 Jr. *** (5.5) 406 584 4,201 69.5% 37 11 26 4.3% 6.6
Blake Frohnapfel 6'6, 230 So. ** (5.4) 18 23 180 78.3% 2 1 2 8.0% 7.1
Gunnar Holcombe 6'3, 187 RSFr. *** (5.6)







Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Kevin Grooms RB 5'10, 168 So. *** (5.7) 121 737 6.1 7.1 8 +15.2
Steward Butler RB 5'9, 173 So. *** (5.5) 101 500 5.0 6.4 3 +0.7
Remi Watson RB 5'11, 198 So. *** (5.5) 79 380 4.8 3.3 7 -3.1
Essray Taliaferro RB 5'7, 184 Sr. NR 58 251 4.3 2.8 2 -5.2
Travon Van RB 39 93 2.4 3.7 2 -9.7
Rakeem Cato QB 6'0, 184 Jr. *** (5.5) 31 199 6.4 3.4 1 +4.1
Blake Frohnapfel QB 6'6, 230 So. ** (5.4) 11 81 7.4 12.3 1 +3.6

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tommy Shuler WR 5'8, 190 Jr. *** (5.5) 141 110 1138 78.0% 8.1 24.1% 58.9% 8.1 112.8
Antavious Wilson WR 97 69 741 71.1% 7.6 16.6% 60.8% 7.6 73.5
Aaron Dobson WR 91 57 679 62.6% 7.5 15.5% 67.0% 7.6 67.3
Demetrius Evans WR 5'11, 197 Sr. ** (5.2) 46 32 284 69.6% 6.2 7.8% 54.3% 6.2 28.2
Gator Hoskins TE 6'2, 242 Sr. ** (5.2) 44 35 374 79.5% 8.5 7.5% 68.2% 9.2 37.1
Craig Wilkins WR 6'1, 182 Jr. *** (5.6) 20 14 122 70.0% 6.1 3.4% 60.0% 6.1 12.1
Jazz King WR 5'11, 194 Jr. *** (5.6) 19 15 151 78.9% 7.9 3.2% 68.4% 8.1 15.0
Davonte Allen WR 6'2, 194 So. *** (5.6) 18 11 183 61.1% 10.2 3.1% 61.1% 10.2 18.1
C.J. Crawford TE 18 11 107 61.1% 5.9 3.1% 66.7% 6.4 10.6
Remi Watson RB 5'11, 198 So. *** (5.5) 16 11 85 68.8% 5.3 2.7% 68.8% 5.1 8.4
Eric Frohnapfel TE 6'6, 227 Jr. *** (5.5) 13 13 129 100.0% 9.9 2.2% 69.2% 10.8 12.8
Kevin Grooms RB 5'10, 168 So. *** (5.7) 12 8 50 66.7% 4.2 2.0% 50.0% 3.7 5.0
Shawney Kersey (Penn State 2011) WR 6'1, 191 Sr. *** (5.7) 11 5 108 45.5% 9.8 3.2% 72.7% N/A N/A
Angelo Jean-Louis WR 6'0, 185 Fr. **** (5.8)








Deontay McManus WR 6'2, 220 Fr. **** (5.8)








Shykeem Pitts WR 5'11, 175 Fr. *** (5.5)








5. A youth takeover

Yes, the 2012 Marshall offense was quite a bit more experienced than previous units. But that speaks more to the youth of 2011, as Marshall was still pretty young overall. That is obvious when you begin to take a look at the skill position roster. Cato is only now a junior, and the top three running backs are all sophomores; all three -- Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler, and Remi Watson -- held their own as freshmen in 2012, and Grooms was particularly impressive and explosive. All three need to improve in terms of play-to-play efficiency, but ... they were freshmen. Of course they were going to be inefficient.

But the youth takeover could continue in 2013. The players mentioned above are still young, as is Tommy Shuler, but Marshall welcomes two four-star freshmen into the fray at receiver (Angelo Jean-Louis and Deontay McManus), along with a three-star freshman (Shykeem Pitts), and an intriguing three-star sophomore in Davonte Allen. Throw in old hands of sorts, like Penn State transfer Shawney Kersey, possession receiver Demetrius Evans, and reliable tight end Gator Hoskins, and you've got a receiving corps that could be among the deepest mid-major units in the country, off-setting one of the most interesting, young running back units in the mid-major universe as well.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.5 3.09 3.57 35.7% 73.5% 17.7% 106.0 5.0% 4.5%
Rank 76 45 28 97 32 42 60 68 30
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Chris Jasperse C 6'4, 290 Jr. NR 25 career starts
Garrett Scott RT 6'5, 295 Sr. ** (5.4) 21 career starts
John Bruhin RG 20 career starts
Jordan Jeffries LT 6'8, 322 Sr. ** (5.1) 15 career starts
Josh Lovell LG 6'6, 310 Jr. *** (5.6) 7 career starts
Alex Schooler RG 6'6, 307 Sr. ** (5.3) 7 career starts
Gage Niemeyer LT 6'6, 294 Sr. *** (5.5) 5 career starts
Cameron Dees C 6'2, 276 So. *** (5.5) 2 career starts
Corey Tenney RT 6'7, 308 Sr. ** (5.1) 2 career starts
Grady Kerr LG 6'3, 310 Jr. NR
Sebastian Johansson LG 6'5, 282 So. ** (5.4)
Josh Murriel OL 6'5, 308 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Chris Huhn OL 6'6, 290 Fr. *** (5.5)
Sandley Jean-Felix OL 6'5, 292 Fr. *** (5.5)

6. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle...

The Marshall offensive line had six different starting lineups in 2012; only one member of the year-end two-deep failed to start at least one game. A mix of injury and plain-old shuffling held the unit back a bit, but assuming experience and good health solve some of the general woes the line suffered. Still, it wasn't an awful line by any means. The quick passing kept the sack rate down (and the pass protection on passing downs was quite solid), and the line excelled in power rushing situations. Now it gets to reap the benefits of the shuffling, as eight of nine players with starting experience return and will be pressed by young players like three-star redshirt freshman Josh Murriel and Sweden native Sebastian Johansson, who is evidently having himself a lovely spring. Pannkaka blockeras all around.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 103 101 111 95
RUSHING 105 92 93 88
PASSING 94 106 116 95
Standard Downs 92 110 84
Passing Downs 104 95 108
Redzone 118 114 121
Q1 Rk 86 1st Down Rk 90
Q2 Rk 117 2nd Down Rk 118
Q3 Rk 110 3rd Down Rk 89
Q4 Rk 97

7. No star power, no production

Following the loss of all-world lineman Vinny Curry, Marshall's defense was predictably less aggressive, or at least less successfully aggressive. That left defensive coordinator Chris Rippon in a pretty tentative place, and the results were poor. Marshall plummeted from 66th in Def. F/+ to 117th, and Rippon resigned in November. Holliday replaced him with Temple defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who oversaw a similar dynamic in Philadelphia over the last two years: good defense in 2011 (45th in Def. F/+) forced to replace stars and regresses (76th).

Heater inherits a unit that was terribly thin in 2012 -- the secondary basically played only five guys all year, the defensive line basically played 4-5, and offensive players took up most of the spots on special teams. The 2013 defense will have all of the experience in the world, and there are some high-upside youngsters at linebacker and in the secondary, but aside from linebacker Jermaine Holmes, there are few proven entities here. It's still in "all-potential" mode, like the Marshall program as a whole.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 92.9 2.80 3.50 40.4% 65.4% 19.7% 81.9 3.7% 6.1%
Rank 91 41 90 80 47 55 92 96 70
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alex Bazzie DE 6'2, 225 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 59.5 7.6% 9 2 0 2 0 0
Jeremiah Taylor DE 6'4, 259 Sr. NR 12 39.5 5.0% 8.5 5.5 0 0 2 1
Brandon Sparrow NT 6'3, 295 Sr. ** (5.2) 12 35.5 4.5% 9 5 0 0 0 0
Marques Aiken DT 12 25.5 3.2% 6.5 2 0 1 1 0
Ra'Shawde Myers DE 6'4, 240 Jr. ** (5.2) 11 11.0 1.4% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Armonze Daniel DE 6'3, 235 So. *** (5.7) 10 9.5 1.2% 1 0 0 0 0 1
Jarquez Samuel NT 6'5, 275 So. *** (5.6) 11 6.0 0.8% 1.5 1 0 1 0 0
Malcolm Strong DE 6'4, 246 Jr. ** (5.4) 5 5.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Steve Dillon DT 6'3, 266 So. *** (5.7) 11 4.0 0.5% 1 1 0 2 0 0
Ken Smith NT 6'3, 285 Jr. *** (5.5) 3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Blake Brooks DT 6'1, 325 Jr. NR 4 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Gilchrist DE 6'4, 249 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Arnold Blackmon DE 6'2, 235 Jr. ** (5.2)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
D.J. Hunter SLB 6'0, 207 So. **** (5.9) 12 74.0 9.4% 3.5 0 0 2 1 0
Jermaine Holmes MLB 5'11, 248 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 58.0 7.4% 13.5 1 1 1 1 1
Devin Arrington WLB 9 43.5 5.5% 3 0 1 1 0 0
Cortez Carter MLB 5'11, 224 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 25.5 3.2% 1 1 0 1 0 1
Billy Mitchell MLB 6'3, 235 Sr. NR 6 24.5 3.1% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Deon Meadows WLB 5'11, 229 Jr. *** (5.5) 10 17.5 2.2% 1.5 0 0 0 1 2
Raheem Waiters WLB 6'0, 219 Jr. ** (5.1) 11 15.5 2.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Evan McKelvey LB 6'1, 198 So. ** (5.4) 3 9.5 1.2% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Derek Mitchell SLB 6'1, 204 Sr. NR 12 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kent Turene LB 6'3, 238 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Stefan Houston LB 6'3, 200 Fr. **** (5.8)

Jeremiah Benjamin LB 6'2, 225 Fr. *** (5.5)






8. Star power in the middle of the defense

While Marshall missed Curry tremendously, it did still have Holmes, who logged 13.5 tackles for loss, mostly against the run. Toss in nose tackle Brandon Sparrow, and you've got a rather impressive pair of play-makers in the middle of the defense. Ends Alex Bazzie and Jeremiah Taylor aren't so bad themselves. As with the running backs, the down-for-down consistency was lacking, and that should improve with experience, but the cupboard isn't bare in the play-making department.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dominick Legrande SS 12 100.5 12.8% 3 0 2 5 1 0
Okechukwu Okoroha FS 12 75.5 9.6% 3 0 0 4 0 1
Derrick Thomas CB 6'0, 178 Sr. **** (5.8) 12 41.0 5.2% 2 0 1 4 1 1
Darryl Roberts (2011) CB 5'11, 175 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 31.0 4.1% 2 1 1 7 0 0
Keith Baxter CB 5'11, 190 Jr. *** (5.5) 11 25.0 3.2% 1 0 1 6 0 0
Monterius Lovett CB 5'11, 169 Sr. ** (5.1) 11 20.0 2.5% 1 0 2 6 1 0
Shawn Samuels FS 5'10, 194 So. *** (5.5) 7 3.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Corie Wilson FS 5'10, 186 So. ** (5.4) 7 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Leggett CB 5'11, 191 RSFr. **** (5.9)

Andre Scott S 6'0, 184 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Neville Hewitt DB 6'2, 220 Jr. *** (5.5)

Taj Letman DB 6'3, 195 So. *** (5.7)

Michael Johnson DB 5'9, 153 Fr. *** (5.7)

Chocolate Wilson DB 5'9, 160 Fr. *** (5.6)






9. A fresh, new secondary

Following an injury to starter Darryl Roberts, Marshall officially had three cornerbacks and two safeties available in 2012. The complete lack of depth took its toll. That said, the reinforcements have arrived. Roberts returns, as do 2012's other three corners (led by former four-star recruit Derrick Thomas), and they will be complemented by a pair of high-upside redshirt freshmen (A.J. Leggett, who redshirted himself because of injury in 2012, and Andre Scott), two three-star junior college transfers (Neville Hewitt and Taj Letman), and two more interesting, three-star freshmen (Michael Johnson and Chocolate Wilson). The loss of both starting safeties hurt, but their overall production (not to mention Marshall's horrendous pass efficiency stats) suggests they were replaceable. The pure number of options leads me to believe that Marshall's secondary should be, at worst, no worse than last season.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Williams 6'0, 188 So. 43 45.2 4 9 16 58.1%
Justin Haig 5'8, 188 Jr. 1 41.0 0 0 0 0.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Justin Haig 5'8, 188 Jr. 63 57.3 4 6.3%
Trent Martin 6'1, 212 So. 20 53.6 2 10.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Justin Haig 5'8, 188 Jr. 60-60 9-12 75.0% 4-4 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Andre Snipes-Booker KR 31 20.8 0
Kevin Grooms KR 5'10, 168 So. 10 19.1 0
Steward Butler KR 5'9, 173 So. 4 24.2 0
Andre Snipes-Booker PR 11 5.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 110
Net Punting 48
Net Kickoffs 124
Touchback Pct 122
Field Goal Pct 22
Kick Returns Avg 89
Punt Returns Avg 67

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2012 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Miami (Ohio) 106
7-Sep Gardner-Webb NR
14-Sep at Ohio 83
21-Sep at Virginia Tech 23
5-Oct UT-San Antonio 114
12-Oct at Florida Atlantic 116
19-Oct at Middle Tennessee 98
2-Nov Southern Miss 87
9-Nov UAB 105
16-Nov at Tulsa 56
23-Nov at Florida International 99
30-Nov East Carolina 81
Five-Year F/+ Rk 90
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 65
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -2 / +3.6
TO Luck/Game -2.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** +2.5

10. Now or next year?

Marshall returns a boatload of play-makers from a team that was pretty close to being much, much better in 2012. And the squad is, overall, still young enough to return a large number of experienced play-makers in 2014, as well.

So when does the surge begin, then? Now? Another year from now? Ever? Doc Holliday truly has done a startling job of amassing talent and raw athleticism in Huntington, but as I said at the top, that has to eventually translate into results. Marshall has won five, six, and five regular season games in Holliday's three seasons; after struggling on the offensive end, he fixed those problems just in time for his defense to fall apart. Both units have performed well at some point in his three years, and if the pieces come together in 2013, lord knows there won't be a lot of resistance within the conference. It's probably Marshall vs. East Carolina for the C-USA East title in 2013. Can Marshall take a couple of steps forward and establish itself as the preeminent Doc Holliday has done a rather stunning job of amassing star recruits in three years at Marshall, but he only has 20 wins to show for it. If a breakthrough is going to come, it should come pretty quickly; and if it does, the Thundering Herd could become the preeminent power in the Future C-USA.power in the Future C-USA?

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