clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The big 2015 Marshall football guide: Just as dangerous, but more vulnerable

New, comments

The 128-team countdown previews the reigning Conference USA champions.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. What is Marshall?

Simply put, Marshall was awesome. The Thundering Herd faded in November, which damaged the overall ratings, but they still rampaged through most of the season. They played just about the easiest schedule imaginable, but they played at a high level against those teams.

Among teams not currently in power conferences, Marshall's 2014 squad ranked highly in recent history. In 10 years of F/+ ratings, Marshall ranks ninth among all non-power teams, fourth in the "No Boise State" division.

Highest mid-major F/+ ratings (besides Boise State), 2005-14
1. 2007 USF
2. 2012 Utah State
3. 2009 Cincinnati
4. 2014 Marshall
5. 2007 Cincinnati

You could make the case that the Herd are really second on that list behind Utah State, since USF and Cincinnati were part of the BCS Big East.

For three years, Doc Holliday recruited like gangbusters while putting a mediocre product on the field; the Herd were a perfectly average Conference USA team every year between 2007 (when Mark Snyder was still the head coach) and 2012.

But then things changed.

In my 2013 Marshall preview, I said "So when does the surge begin? Now? Another year? Ever?" and the Herd responded with a 10-win season. An upset loss at Rice in the conference title game kept sentiments from rising too high, but with the components of a potentially dominant offense and defense, it became clear that Marshall was well-stocked heading into 2014.

Marshall almost won at Virginia Tech, pummeled East Carolina to win the Conference USA East, and looked like the bigger, stronger, faster team against Maryland in the Military Bowl. The Herd looked the part in 2013 and began to play like it.

They return an ace quarterback, his top target, a couple of explosive running backs, two all-conference offensive linemen, and nine starters from a defense that recorded 102 tackles for loss and improved from 117th to 78th in Def. F/+ last season.

Marshall is your Conference USA overlord in 2014. And I'm not sure it's close.

For 10 weeks, it wasn't. Marshall outscored opponents by an average score of 47-16 and only once won by fewer than 19. The better the opponent (relatively speaking), the bigger the statement. Marshall handled eventual Conference USA East runner-up Middle Tennessee by 25 points, then avenged the 2013 loss to Rice with a 41-14 pasting. The schedule precluded the Herd from getting any attention from the Playoff committee, but this was still remarkable.

The pace trailed off in late November. UAB almost pulled a huge upset in Birmingham on November 22, and on November 28, after never giving up more than 775 yards and 37 points in any two-game span, Marshall allowed 738 yards and 67 points to Western Kentucky in a thrilling shootout loss. The Herd looked iffy in pulling off a comeback win over Louisiana Tech in the conference title game before returning to their old selves in a bowl shellacking of Northern Illinois.

Marshall finished just 17th in the F/+ rankings after flirting with a top-10 finish. Regardless, this was an awesome team.

And now it starts over. The record-setting pass-and-catch combination of Rakeem Cato (14,079 career passing yards and 131 touchdowns) and Tommy Shuler (322 career catches and 25 touchdowns) is gone. So are Marshall's top three tacklers on the defensive line and three of four at linebacker. And so is all-conference center Chris Jasperse. Marshall didn't ride to dominance with 22 senior starters, but a new identity begins.

So what is Marshall? A team that slowly laid a foundation for high-caliber football, broke through in 2013, and will remain Conference USA's heavyweight? Or was this a team built around Cato, Shuler, and front-seven talent that won't be donning the green and white?

Recruiting rankings suggest the former. Not only do the Herd return plenty of proven pieces, they'll be replacing Cato with one of three three-star quarterbacks, and there are still 10 three- or four-star freshmen or sophomores in the receiving corps. Marshall has more than lived up to its recruiting rankings the last two years, and the departure of a few starters won't automatically change that.

Still, sometimes a cluster of talented players proves more special than others. It's hard to assume the new guys will be just as strong. Marshall has a lot to prove.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 13-1 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 17
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug at Miami (Ohio) 103 42-27 W 73% 14.3 100%
6-Sep Rhode Island N/A 48-7 W 78% 18.0 100%
13-Sep Ohio 106 44-14 W 78% 18.4 100%
20-Sep at Akron 105 48-17 W 92% 32.4 100%
4-Oct at Old Dominion 108 56-14 W 95% 39.6 100%
11-Oct Middle Tennessee 87 49-24 W 78% 18.1 99%
18-Oct at Florida International 96 45-13 W 84% 23.1 100%
25-Oct Florida Atlantic 100 35-16 W 75% 15.6 100%
8-Nov at Southern Miss 110 63-17 W 87% 26.7 100%
15-Nov Rice 86 41-14 W 91% 31.4 100%
22-Nov at UAB 79 23-18 W 39% -6.8 47%
28-Nov Western Kentucky 50 66-67 L 41% -5.2 48%
6-Dec Louisiana Tech 35 26-23 W 55% 3.2 54%
23-Dec vs. Northern Illinois 69 52-23 W 88% 27.7 100%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 39.6 12 25.5 50
Points Per Game 45.6 3 21.0 18

2. Hello, soapbox

For much of 2014, Marshall was an undefeated, dominant, potentially top-10 team that continuously got crushed for an awful schedule.

And to be sure, the schedule was horrendous. The Herd played eight teams that ranked 96th or worse in the F/+ ratings and only two that ranked better than 69th. Plus, in those two games, they lost to WKU and nearly lost to Louisiana Tech, both at home. So it was easy to make a case that the Herd had benefited from a weak schdule and would have lost more with a normal schedule.

But that underscores the level at which they played for the first 10 games, a level they reached again in the Boca Raton Bowl. (They couldn't even get a game against a power team in a bowl.) And with the way the College Football Playoff committee ignored the Herd for most of the season, even as they were threatening to crack the top 10 in the opponent-adjusted advanced stats, Marshall became a poster child for why advanced stats should have a role in Playoff selection.

In late-February, I had the privilege of sitting on the College Football Analytics panel at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. It was a fun shoulder-rubbing experience, and it produced one hell of a to-do list, but it also featured this exchange.

Me: Marshall was an interesting example -- not that they were a contender, but they were undefeated for much of the year. And when they originally drew up their 2014 schedule, it had, I think Louisville, maybe? It had a power team on it, and it had a better Conference USA on it. And then the [non-conference] game falls through, and Conference USA gets weakened a little bit. They could have tried harder, I guess, but they ended up getting punished for something that wasn't necessarily due to what they were doing on the field.

Oliver Luck: And keep in mind, all the committee can do is look at who you played that year.

Or they could use opponent-adjusted stats to accurately compare output to expected output based on who you played.

I like to say that good stats can make sure the conversation starts in the right place. Even if Marshall had kept up their 10-week pace through 13 weeks and wrapped up a top-10 placement in F/+ and other rankings, the Herd probably would have still been behind Boise State in the Playoff rankings for the fact that Boise State got whipped by Ole Miss. That's not right. There's a better way.

I'm all for encouraging more exciting non-conference scheduling. But I'm not in favor of punishing a team for what some associate athletic director did two years earlier. Marshall was awesome, and Marshall was ignored.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 1 IsoPPP+ 136.3 10
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.7% 17 Succ. Rt. + 105.6 49
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.3 62 Def. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 10 Redzone S&P+ 104.6 55
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.0 ACTUAL 24 +4.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 2 21 45 10
RUSHING 8 14 62 2
PASSING 18 30 32 29
Standard Downs 16 49 4
Passing Downs 33 42 37
Q1 Rk 16 1st Down Rk 12
Q2 Rk 31 2nd Down Rk 4
Q3 Rk 20 3rd Down Rk 39
Q4 Rk 22

3. The big-play guys are back

Like Louisiana Tech, Marshall bailed itself out with big plays, especially in an all-or-nothing running game. And for all of his successes, Rakeem Cato only completed 59 percent of his passes. Marshall's offense was more efficient and explosive than Tech's, but it was the same concept.

Almost to a man, the big-play guys return. You've got the absurdly explosive senior trio of Devon Johnson, Steward Butler, and Remi Watson, who rushed for 3,111 yards last year and produced serious explosiveness numbers. (That Johnson averaged 8.9 highlight yards per opportunity at 246 pounds is ridiculous. He averaged more than 20 yards per reception, as well.) You've also got four-star sophomores Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus and senior Davonte Allen; the trio combined for a ridiculous 21.1 yards per catch with a paltry 49 percent catch rate. And you've got young speedsters like Donquell Green and Reggie Rogers threatening to break into the rotation as well.

This will still be the most explosive offense in Conference USA.

But you still need to move the chains consistently. And in losing both Tommy Shuler and tight end Eric Frohnapfel (combined: 71 percent catch rate) and the mobile Cato, you're losing the most efficient aspects of your offense. That's tricky to replace.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Rakeem Cato
267 451 3903 40 13 59.2% 21 4.4% 8.0
Gunnar Holcombe 6'3, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8231 12 21 119 0 0 57.1% 0 0.0% 5.7
Michael Birdsong 6'5, 239 Jr. NR NR
Cole Garvin 6'1, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244
Chase Litton 6'6, 212 Fr. 3 stars 0.8360

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Devon Johnson RB 6'1, 246 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8163 206 1767 17 8.6 8.9 51.0% 3 1
Steward Butler RB 5'9, 192 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479 107 798 7 7.5 8.0 44.9% 1 1
Remi Watson RB 5'11, 196 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8157 100 546 6 5.5 6.2 36.0% 2 1
Rakeem Cato QB
73 609 8 8.3 6.5 60.3% 5 1
Brandon Byrd RB
23 94 1 4.1 4.7 26.1% 0 0
Gunnar Holcombe QB 6'3, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8231 7 66 0 9.4 9.6 57.1% 0 0
Tony Pittman RB 5'10, 206 So. 2 stars 0.7893 7 56 1 8.0 6.0 57.1% 0 0
Delvin Weems RB 5'8, 195 Fr. 3 stars 0.8467







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tommy Shuler SLOT
134 92 1138 68.7% 29.9% 70.9% 8.5 39 8.3 150.6
Angelo Jean-Louis WR-Z 6'0, 184 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9213 50 21 490 42.0% 11.2% 62.0% 9.8 211 10.3 64.9
Deon-Tay McManus WR-Z 6'2, 228 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8950 50 26 422 52.0% 11.2% 60.0% 8.4 94 8.4 55.9
Eric Frohnapfel TE
48 37 420 77.1% 10.7% 54.2% 8.8 -13 8.7 55.6
Davonte Allen WR-X 6'2, 201 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8200 40 22 544 55.0% 8.9% 67.5% 13.6 270 13.5 72.0
Craig Wilkins WR-Z
34 19 236 55.9% 7.6% 67.6% 6.9 0 7.1 31.2
Ryan Yurachek TE 6'3, 231 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7626 25 17 149 68.0% 5.6% 68.0% 6.0 -54 6.4 19.7
Hyleck Foster SLOT 5'10, 191 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 24 18 254 75.0% 5.4% 54.2% 10.6 42 10.5 33.6
Justin Hunt WR-X 6'3, 197 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7967 15 7 119 46.7% 3.3% 60.0% 7.9 28 7.9 15.7
Devon Johnson RB 6'1, 246 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8163 7 6 121 85.7% 1.6% 42.9% 17.3 52 20.0 16.0
Demetrius Evans WR
5 4 47 80.0% 1.1% 80.0% 9.4 0 9.6 6.2
Josh Knight WR 6'1, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 4 2 13 50.0% 0.9% 75.0% 3.3 -12 3.9 1.7
Deandre Reaves WR 5'10, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8331 3 2 26 66.7% 0.7% 100.0% 8.7 2 N/A 3.4
Donquell Green WR 5'8, 163 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8235
Emanuel Beal WR 6'1, 212 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457
Kaleb Harris TE 6'3, 219 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900
Emanuel Byrd TE 6'3, 228 Jr. 3 stars NR
Reggie Rogers WR 6'1, 190 Fr. 3 stars 0.8363
Larry Dunnon WR 6'4, 200 Fr. 3 stars 0.8242
Latrell Nieves WR 6'0, 168 Fr. 2 stars 0.8074
Raylen Elzy WR 6'4, 198 Fr. 3 stars 0.7913
Reese Wooten WR 6'1, 170 Fr. 3 stars 0.7200

4. The apprentices looked pretty good

If you believe recruiting rankings, you find Marshall has multiple high-ceiling options for replacing both Cato and Shuler. But you also don't have to just rely on the rankings.

Gunnar Holcombe averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt last year, but he was throwing almost entirely in garbage time, and he showed Cato-esque mobility when tucking and running. And if he isn't efficient enough behind center, then there are other potential options. Michael Birdsong threw for 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore starter for James Madison in 2013 before transferring, Cole Garvin was a big get in 2014, and Chase Litton was one of the most highly touted members of the 2015 class.

And while it feels strange saying "Don't worry about losing Tommy Shuler" ... did you see what slot backup Hyleck Foster did last year when given the opportunity? He caught 18 of 24 passes for 254 yards and began to shine when given a larger role late: 10 of his catches, and two of his three touchdowns, came against WKU and Louisiana Tech. Between Foster, the big-play guys, and a wealth of three-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen, I can't pretend to worry about the loss of Shuler.

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 116.5 3.61 4.37 47.1% 61.2% 13.4% 121.3 2.1% 9.9%
Rank 14 4 1 9 106 4 38 10 102
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Chris Jasperse C 53 2014 1st All-CUSA
Clint Van Horn RT 6'5, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 22 2014 1st All-CUSA
Sebastian Johansson LG 6'5, 292 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 25
Michael Selby C 6'2, 276 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8414 14
Trevor Mendelson LT
12
Blake Brooks LG
5
Tom Collins LG 6'5, 277 Sr. NR NR 0
Eric Ansley RT 6'7, 309 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 0
Chris Huhn RG 6'5, 278 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8348 0
Sandley Jean-Felix LT 6'5, 309 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8345 0
AJ Addison LT 6'6, 288 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8700 0
Cody Collins RG 6'1, 283 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7804 0
Nate Devers C 6'3, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8665
Jordan Dowrey RG 6'1, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7755
Fedrice Binot LT 6'4, 282 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Levi Brown OL 6'4, 275 Fr. 2 stars 0.8348

5. Either great or terrible at everything

Marshall's line was interesting: 14th in Adj. Line Yards, fourth in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line), 10th in standard downs sack rate ... and 102nd in passing downs sack rate and 106th in power success rate (despite blocking for a big back). You will see disparities, especially in pass-blocking stats (where the mobility and play-making tendencies of a quarterback have as much to do with the rates as the line does), but that's an impressive difference.

In theory, the line could be a question mark. It loses one of two all-conference performers, not to mention two other full- or part-time starters. But returnees have combined for 61 career starts, and the wealth of young, high-ceiling options is a plus. You don't have to assume that every former three-star recruit is going to turn into an all-conference guy, but the odds are good that two good starting options will emerge from a deep pool.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.72 6 IsoPPP+ 119.9 22
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.9% 33 Succ. Rt. + 102.5 55
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.7 18 Off. FP+ 103.0 30
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 30 Redzone S&P+ 94.1 89
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.7 ACTUAL 22.0 -4.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 32 35 53 22
RUSHING 55 69 86 42
PASSING 24 19 16 18
Standard Downs 55 85 33
Passing Downs 6 6 8
Q1 Rk 68 1st Down Rk 34
Q2 Rk 28 2nd Down Rk 96
Q3 Rk 29 3rd Down Rk 12
Q4 Rk 106

6. Opponents did all they could not to pass

Marshall's run defense was decent -- not efficient but good at minimizing big plays. If you remained consistent, you could move the ball on the Herd on standard downs, stay ahead of the chains, and sometimes put points on the board, at least if you could get the ball in the end zone against a strong redzone defense.

The pass defense separated Marshall from some random bend-don't-break CUSA defense. Once you had to pass, you were dead meat. The Herd ranked 55th in Standard Downs S&P+ but sixth in Passing Downs S&P+, sacking the quarterback on one of every nine PD pass attempts and seemingly getting a hand on every pass the quarterback was able to throw.

(There is always an exception. WKU's Brandon Doughty completed 35 of 51 for 516 yards, eight scores, and two picks on November 28. His output represented 19 percent of Marshall's total passing yards allowed and 38 percent of touchdowns. He was the only quarterback to top a passer rating of 126 against Marshall, but he posted a 197.5. That's one hell of an exception.)

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 93.7 3.14 2.46 39.2% 68.8% 17.3% 136.8 5.6% 11.8%
Rank 91 92 11 68 75 97 13 45 10
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
James Rouse DT
14 32.0 3.8% 10.5 2.5 0 0 3 0
Arnold Blackmon DE
13 30.0 3.6% 15.5 8.0 0 3 4 0
Ra'Shawde Myers DE
14 29.5 3.5% 5.0 3.5 0 0 1 0
Jarquez Samuel NT 6'4, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8160 14 22.0 2.6% 5.0 1.0 1 0 0 0
Steve Dillon DT 6'4, 278 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8400 14 22.0 2.6% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Joe Massaquoi DE 6'5, 254 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 14 20.5 2.4% 3.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Gary Thompson DE 6'1, 258 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7700 9 14.5 1.7% 3.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Armonze Daniel DE 6'4, 244 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631 14 14.0 1.7% 2.0 0.0 0 0 2 0
Ricardo Williams DT 6'5, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8725 13 11.5 1.4% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tomell One NT 6'3, 279 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148 11 10.0 1.2% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Blake Keller DE 6'2, 229 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8143
Ryan Bee DE 6'7, 260 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7783
Jason Smith DT 6'3, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593
Malik Thompson DT 6'6, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.7778
Damien Dozier DE 6'4, 215 Fr. 2 stars 0.8296
Channing Hames DE 6'5, 255 Fr. 3 stars 0.8429
Ty Tyler DE 6'3, 231 Fr. 2 stars 0.8371






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Neville Hewitt WLB
14 82.5 9.8% 13.0 5.0 1 3 0 0
Jermaine Holmes MLB
14 72.5 8.6% 11.0 2.5 0 0 1 0
D.J. Hunter SLB 6'0, 209 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) NR 14 53.5 6.4% 10.0 5.5 0 0 0 0
Raheem Waiters SLB
14 20.0 2.4% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 1
Evan McKelvey WLB 6'2, 231 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 5 17.0 2.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raheim Huskey MLB 6'2, 218 So. NR NR 13 16.5 2.0% 2.5 2.0 0 1 1 0
Stefan Houston WLB 6'3, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8500 14 12.5 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Cortez Carter LB
14 11.5 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shawn Petty
(Maryland)
MLB 6'0, 251 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7923
Chase Hancock SLB 6'2, 206 RSFr. NR NR
Devontre'a Tyler LB 6'2, 238 Jr. 3 stars 0.7900
Marquis Couch WLB 6'2, 218 Fr. 3 stars 0.8086
Doyle Grimes LB 6'2, 210 Fr. 2 stars 0.8160








7. Plenty of reason to run

Just as the Marshall offense might be as good or better at big plays while growing more inefficient, Marshall's pass defense could get even better (or at least remain as good) while its run defense forms a few more cracks.

Ends Arnold Blackmon and Ra'Shawde Myers are gone, as are big-play tackle James Rouse and, perhaps most important, run-stuffing linebackers Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes, who combined for 16.5 non-sack tackles for loss.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Taj Letman SS 6'2, 189 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 14 70.0 8.3% 0.5 0 4 4 0 0
Darryl Roberts CB
14 60.5 7.2% 3.5 0 1 17 1 0
Corey Tindal CB 5'9, 183 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7700 14 55.0 6.5% 2 0.5 1 12 0 0
A.J. Leggett FS 6'0, 188 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9193 12 52.0 6.2% 1 0 4 4 1 0
Tiquan Lang FS 5'8, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7943 12 50.5 6.0% 2.5 0 1 7 0 0
Antavis Rowe CB 5'10, 160 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 17.5 2.1% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Rodney Allen CB 5'11, 180 So. NR NR 14 8.0 1.0% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Keith Baxter CB 6'0, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8109 12 7.5 0.9% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Cody Carter FS 5'10, 177 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 13 6.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kendall Gant SS 6'3, 199 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8995 7 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Johnson CB 5'9, 166 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672
Chocolate Wilson CB 5'10, 169 So. 3 stars 0.8538
Chris Williams-Hall CB 6'0, 190 Fr. NR NR
Von Davis S 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars 0.8550
Roosevelt Lawrence DB 5'10, 159 Fr. 3 stars 0.8335
Antonio Howard CB 5'10, 163 Fr. 3 stars 0.8209








8. Still nasty

Cornerback Darryl Roberts defensed 18 passes and recorded 3.5 tackles for loss last year, and I'm almost ignoring that he's gone. That's how impressive the rest of the secondary is and should be.

Safeties Taj Letman, A.J. Leggett, and Tiquan Lang (four tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 15 break-ups) are back. So is corner Corey Tindal (13 PDs, two TFLs). Plus, sophomores Antavis Rowe and Rodney Allen got their feet wet in garbage time, and a pool of three-star youngsters like sophomore Kendall Gant and Chocolate Wilson and freshmen Von Davis, Roosevelt Lawrence, and Antonio Howard should produce one early difference-maker.

Losing Roberts means a regression is possible ... but not likely. The biggest threat to the pass defense isn't in this unit at all -- it's in what happens if the pass rush regresses too much.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Williams 6'0, 200 Sr. 42 44.1 7 11 10 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Kaare Vedvik 6'4, 200 So. 98 61.9 45 8 45.9%
Nick Smith 5'10, 168 So. 12 61.3 2 0 16.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Justin Haig 82-82 14-18 77.8% 3-3 100.0%
Nick Smith 5'10, 168 So. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Deandre Reaves KR 5'10, 180 Sr. 32 29.1 1
Remi Watson KR 5'11, 196 Sr. 6 15.8 0
Tommy Shuler PR 24 9.5 0
Hyleck Foster PR 5'10, 191 So. 4 6.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 10
Field Goal Efficiency 69
Punt Return Efficiency 14
Kick Return Efficiency 2
Punt Efficiency 93
Kickoff Efficiency 48
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 39

9. Don't kick it to Deandre

Marshall was explosive on offense and destroyed the pass on defense, and that was enough to dominate most of the time. With a strong special teams unit, however, the Herd were on another level entirely for a while.

Punting was both mediocre and rare, kickoffs and place-kicking were decent (one area where occasional offensive inefficiency could be noticed: Justin Haig was asked to kick 21 field goals last year; that's too many). But returns were spectacular. Tommy Shuler was an excellent punt returner, and Deandre Reaves was a spectacular kick returner. Haig and Shuler are gone, which could spark regression here, but the Herd still have Reaves.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
6-Sep Purdue 84
12-Sep at Ohio 106
19-Sep Norfolk State NR
26-Sep at Kent State 107
3-Oct Old Dominion 108
9-Oct Southern Miss 110
17-Oct at Florida Atlantic 100
24-Oct North Texas 125
31-Oct Charlotte NR
7-Nov at Middle Tennessee 87
14-Nov Florida International 96
28-Nov at Western Kentucky 50
Five-Year F/+ Rk -1.7% (61)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 72 / 72
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -2 / 6.8
2014 TO Luck/Game -3.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (6, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 12.5 (0.5)

10. Under 10 wins would be a shock

Marshall is still going to be more athletic than its competition on what is, yes, another pretty weak slate. A Purdue-Ohio-Kent State non-conference slate would have been pretty challenging in 2012, when all three went bowling, but none of those were top-80 teams in 2014. In fact, only one 2015 opponent was.

Again, that's only so much Marshall's fault -- at some point between 2011-13, Purdue, Ohio, Kent State, Southern Miss, North Texas, and FIU were all between solid and downright good -- but the Herd should be able to take advantage again.

This isn't a Playoff contender, but the Herd boast as many known play-makers as anybody in the conference, and even the glaring holes have three-star candidates for replacement. The strengths (pass defense, big plays on offense) will be as strong, but the weaknesses (run defense, offensive efficiency) will probably be weaker, which will make the Herd an awfully volatile team, one that will probably suffer an upset at some point.

And if the Herd decide to fall into a late-season funk again, then a November slate that features trips to both MTSU and WKU could be more than tricky.

Still, it would be surprising if this team didn't win 10-plus games for the third straight year. It took a while for Doc Holliday's tricked-out machine to start rolling, but there's just too much potential here for the Herd to fall far.