Marshall ended the 2012 season a disappointing 5-7 for the second time in three seasons under Coach Doc Holliday. The Thundering Herd will begin spring practice March 26 with the annual Green-White Spring Game scheduled for April 27 at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium/James F. Edwards Field. Woody Woodrum, Publisher of Herd Insider magazine presents us with the Marshall 2013 Spring Preview.
Marshall’s offense was as good as the defense was bad in 2012, as the Herd allowed the most points in school history (517) over 12 games (43.1 ppg), while the offense averaged 40.9 ppg, scoring 491 points and ran 1,087 plays but lost games where they scored 59, 41, 38, 34, 31 and 24 points.
Marshall didn’t play an easy schedule, and suffered losses at West Virginia, at Purdue, at UAB and at East Carolina, and home losses to Ohio, Tulsa and UCF (the C-USA West and East division champs) — and all went to bowls but UAB.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato will be a junior, after winning first team All-Conference USA honors and Offensive Player of the Year in the league. WR Tommy Shuler, tight end Gator Hoskins (who set a record for MU tight ends with 10 TDs), and most all of the players on the offensive side also return, losing only one lineman and three receivers (although the No. 2 and 3 wide outs last year).
In the backfield, the “baby” backs are all sophomores, as Kevin Grooms (All-C-USA Frosh team), Steward Butler and Remi Watson combined for 1,617 yards and 18 TDs, and junior Ray Taliaferro added 251 more years and two more scores, starting the finale at ECU.
Punter Tyler Williams (All-C-USA Frosh) was one of the best in the nation, with a MU best 45.2 yards per punt average, 16 placed inside the 20-yard line and only four touchbacks.
With his 24 yard fourth quarter field goal and eight extra points, junior kicker Justin Haig scored 99 points on the season, the most since 98 by Dewey Klein in 1988.
Marshall had the largest turnover of staff in the history of the program, as Holliday has replaced everyone on his staff but Bill Legg, the offensive coordinator, since coming to Marshall in December of 2009, and Scott Sinclair is his fifth strength and conditioning coach in Holliday’s fourth year.
Legg, safeties coach Todd Hartley and defensive line coach J.C. Price are the only coaches coming back from 2012, and all three of them will coach new positions, with Legg moving from tight ends to quarterbacks while Price and Hartley will be assigned by new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who will coach the secondary.
The offense will have to replace wide receivers Aaron Dobson, preparing to head to the NFL, Antavious Wilson and slot Andre-Snipes Booker, but Shuler heads up a group of great young receivers, along with Hoskins and Eric Frohnapfel at tight end.
John Bruhin is the only starter lost on the offensive line, and Holliday’s staff has been loading up on linemen since day one, so this unit looks good.
Defensively? Heater put it bluntly in a recent Herd Insider interview with Jack Bogaczyk, “I can tell you we’ve got issues at linebacker and safety.”
Marshall lost only three seniors, but two of them were starting safeties and an outside linebacker.
The safeties led the team in tackles, not always a bad sign — but it was in this case, as many of those tackles were 10-to-20 yards downfield.
All is not lost, as Heater continued, “Our defensive front, a lot of guys have played a lot of football there. Our corners, if we can keep people healthy, we’ve got guys who have played.”
D.J. Hunter (102 tackles in ’12, third on team) will move back from being an undersized linebacker to safety, the Herd signed a juco, Taj Letman, to bolster that unit.
Highly-touted A.J. Leggett, who was a redshirt last year as a true frosh, will move from corner to safety.
Linebackers returning are Jermaine Holmes, Cortez Carter, Billy Mitchell and Deon Meadows, and joining them are Kent Turene (a prop) and Fork Union newcomer Stefan Houston, while Evan McKelvey (injured) and and Raheem Waiters will start at OLB, but might also go back to safety.
The defensive line will welcome the return defensive ends Alex Bazzie and Jeremiah Taylor as well as the injured James Rouse; defensive tackles Brandon Sparrow, Marques Aiken and Jarquez Samuel; and welcoming juco Arnold Blackmon, who will miss the spring with Marshall finishing up Junior College but is expected to help at end.
Corners feature Penn State transfer and senior Derrick Thomas (53 tackles, one pick), Monterius Lovett (25 tackles, two int.) and Keith Baxter (33 tackles, one pick), and the return of injured Darryl Roberts, who missed all of 2012.
This year, the Herd has about 20 seniors and 25 juniors rising, compared to eight seniors last year.
Cato is the top returning quarterback in the league, and Marshall has all-league players in Shuler, Grooms, Hunter, Hoskins, Holmes, Bazzie, Williams and center/guard Cameron Dees all coming back, all of whom were named to an All-C-USA team or freshman team by the league or other media outlet.
Finally, the schedule, like the times, are a’ changing for the Herd and Conference USA.
Out with the old, as Houston-Memphis-SMU-UCF head to the league that must be named (American 12? Ugh!) and welcomes new C-USA members (for football) Florida Atlantic (FAU), Florida International (FIU), Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and UT-San Antonio (UTSA).
Will the exchange of teams add up for Holliday. 8-5 would be the minimum many fans are calling for — many looking at the new C-USA and wanting 9-10 wins — but any bowl and challenging for the East title will be steps forward for the program.