Of the four MAC teams to play the Marshall Thundering Herd in 2014, only one gave them a game worth talking about in terms of success. A lack of dominance in a 42-27 victory over the RedHawks of Miami surprised some folks at the beginning of the year, but it would then take 10+ weeks before anyone else was able to trade punches and stand toe-to-toe with the Herd.
But gone from the gridiron for the Huntington Herd are a contingent of players who have spurred a great deal of success in recent years for Marshall, including one of the best seasons in school history just last season. Gone are the likes of Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler, Chris Jasperse, James Rouse, and Darryl Roberts, and a couple other defensive pieces but as Doc Holliday has reiterated, his team is "reloading" not rebuilding.
Have no fear if you're a Marshall fan, as the bounty of talent is still plentiful. The "HumVees" are still roaring and ready to open things up for an offense that might struggle to find it's footing but should ultimately be just fine. Tackle Clint Van Horn and Center Michael Selby both were named to the Rimington Award watch list and will protect new starting QB Michael Birdsong who will lead the offense now after transferring in from James Madison. His targets, Davonte Allen, Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon Tay-McManus (the last two were freshman last season) return to pick up where Shuler left off.
Birdsong loses his best target on the receiving end (by far) in Shuler, but returns running back Devon Johnson who totaled over 1900 yards of offense, with 1790 of them coming on the ground. They do not however, return Stewart Butler who was arrested and kicked off the team for assaulting a same-sex couple. The Flashes now will have to stop the presumably still prolific run game that will feature Remi Watson who gobbled up 546 yards on the ground last season.
Despite losing the now Patriot, Roberts as previously mentioned, the Thundering Herd secondary is still strong. Four interceptions a piece for A.J. Leggett and Taj Letman paced the Herd defense, and Corey Lindal and Tiquan Lang helped prop up the a secondary that was tested time and again as a result of most teams playing from behind against the 13-game winners.
SB Nation's own Bill Connelly has this to say about the secondary.
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.
They may have struggled against the likes of Western Kentucky (who didn't?) but otherwise proved stingy in shutting down opposing offenses considering how many snaps the defense went against. Before giving up 23+ points in its last three games of the year, it had only given up more than 20 against Miami (27) and Middle Tennessee (24).
Losing defensive tackle Rouse and several other backers to graduation could prompt what might be the weak spot of Coach Holliday's team. The Flashes' Traiyon Durham and Bobcat's A.J. Ouellette may have exceptional days against a less experienced front seven. Worth keeping in mind though is that Marshall snatched up one of the best JUCO linebackers in the country, so that could pan out a number of ways.
The Herd schedule hasn't exactly been decent the last few years. They're not doing themselves any favors if they want to play in a BIG TIME bowl. They might have just missed that opportunity last year.
Purdue has these guys first so maybe Ohio and Kent State can benefit from finding whatever weaknesses this Marshall team has. They're there somewhere. A good coaching staff will exploit Marshall's losses from last season and turn a few heads in the college football world. Could it be the Bobcats? Could it be the Golden Flashes?