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2012 Marshall Preview
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Posted Aug 12, 2012 2012 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall Thundering Herd

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Doc Holliday
Third year: 12-13
Returning Lettermen
Off. 26, Def. 21, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Marshall Players
1. WR Aaron Dobson, Sr.
2. LB Devin Arrington, Sr.
3. DE Jeremiah Taylor, Jr.
4. RB Tron Martinez, Jr.
5. RB Travon Van, Soph.
6. QB Rakeem Cato, Soph.
7. WR Antavious Wilson, Sr.
8. CB Monterius Lovett, Soph.
9. LB Jermaine Holmes, Soph.
10. DT Marques Aiken, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 at West Virginia
Sep. 8 Western Carolina
Sep. 15 Ohio
Sep. 22 at Rice
Sep. 29 at Purdue
Oct. 6 Tulsa
Oct. 20 at Southern Miss
Oct. 27 UCF
Nov. 3 Memphis
Nov. 10 at UAB
Nov. 17 Houston
Nov. 24 at East Carolina
Two years into the Doc Holliday experiment, the Thundering Herd is heading in the right direction, but not quite as fast as many of the locals would like.

The hope around Huntington is that the movement up the East Division ladder and sense of urgency will reach a new level this fall. Marshall will begin 2012 with a little bit of momentum, having capped a season-ending three-game winning streak with a Beef O’Brady’s Bowl win over Florida International. In February, the staff signed a massive recruiting class that’s built to contribute right away.

Those newcomers plus a spate of transfers are about to join forces with an offense that has the ingredients to become the program’s most potent in years. The Herd is welcoming back QB Rakeem Cato, a rookie starter in 2011, top two rushers Tron Martinez and Travon Van and dynamite WR Aaron Dobson. This program is going to move the chains provided the O-line properly does its job.

The bigger worry on campus rests with a defense that lost its two first-team all-stars, DE Vinny Curry and FS Omar Brown, to graduation. The Herd is currently searching for defensive stoppers to help support its top returning players, such as LB Devin Arrington, DE Jeremiah Taylor and CB Monterius Lovett. Marshall was a respectable No. 6 in Conference USA total D, but avoiding a sharp decline will require the coaching staff to adeptly insert a mess of new starters into the rotation without suffering the consequences. The Herd has raw talent on this side of the ball, to be sure, but the unit needs to operate like a cohesive group once the regular season kicks off.

Holliday has won 12 games in his first two seasons as the head coach. The Thundering Herd had won 11 games in the two years prior to his arrival. Okay, so the progress in Huntington hasn’t quite reached the standings, but the staff has markedly improved the overall talent level on the roster. Now that it’s Year 3 of the regime, it’s time for all of those promising players to begin producing more victories in a league that’s light on powerhouse programs.

What to watch for on offense: Run Cato. Sophomore Rakeem Cato is a passing quarterback. However, he’s also an athletic quarterback, which the Thundering Herd would like to see a little more of in 2012. He looked timid at times outside the pocket, sheepish when not protected by his five enormous blockers. Cato has spent the offseason adding much-needed muscle while becoming more comfortable with his role in the attack. The hope is that No. 12 will do a little more freelancing this fall, because when he takes off, it gives Marshall an added element with which opposing defenses must contend.

What to watch for on defense: A mad dash for jobs in the secondary. While the Herd had a soft pecking order in the defensive backfield coming out of spring, it’s liable to get blown up once practices begin next month. CB Monterius Lovett and up-and-coming S D.J. Hunter appear safe, but everyone is curious what kind of an impact the newcomers will have in the summer. CB A.J. Leggett is a gem of a recruit, an athlete who could have continued his career in the ACC or SEC. At safety, a pair of experienced former BC Eagles, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, are about to descend upon Huntington, with an eye on immediate playing time.

This team will be far better if … the offense begins to click when it matters most. The Herd simply can’t be as erratic with the ball as it was a year ago, when it ranked 98th nationally in third-down conversions and just 81st in red-zone touchdown percentage. In Marshall’s six losses in 2011, it averaged less than 17 points a game, which simply won’t cut it in Conference USA. The hope around Huntington is that QB Rakeem Cato’s second season on campus will produce more points and a much higher degree of efficiency.

The Schedule: The Herd has its annual date at West Virginia to kick things off, but then things get easier in a big hurry with winnable games against Western Carolina, Ohio and Rice before having to deal with a loaded Purdue. There isn't much to complain about with the Conference USA schedule starting out with three home games in the four after the opener against Rice including a week off to prepare for Southern Miss. Kicking off November with Memphis and UAB will help before finishing up with Houston and a road trip to East Carolina.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Aaron Dobson. Googling “Dobson” and “catch” provides a video presentation of why the Thundering Herd senior has generated so much interest within the NFL scouting community. The 6-3, 204-pound acrobat has gotten marginal support from his quarterbacks while at Marshall, yet continues to evolve into a top-flight pass-catcher. Playing with a true freshman battery mate in 2011, he pulled down 49 balls for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns, setting the table for what should be an ever bigger finale at the school.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Devin Arrington. It matters not if Arrington plays safety or linebacker; he’s going to make plays regardless of where he lines up. The 6-2, 209-pounder is an athlete first, meaning he possesses the speed, agility and tenacity to rarely be far from the ball. Displaying excellent range throughout his junior year, he ranked fourth on the team with 77 stops, while adding a pair of interceptions, four pass breakups and a couple of forced fumbles. Arrington will again be one of the tone-setters on the defensive side of the ball for the Herd.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. The Thundering Herd has an abundance of talent at the skill positions, like Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson at wide receiver, and Tron Martinez and Travon Van at running back. However, all of them will be stuck in neutral, unable to fulfill their potential, if the O-line is unable to control opposing defenses. The unit, which played only marginally well in 2011, will be breaking in a JUCO transfer at left tackle, shifting a former guard to right tackle and keeping its fingers crossed that RG John Bruhin can remain healthy all season.

The season will be a success if ... the Thundering Herd wins seven regular season games to coast into a second straight postseason game. This is a talented football team that doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone in Conference USA. Traveling to Morgantown and West Lafayette to face West Virginia and Purdue, respectively, will be challenging, but the balance of the schedule is manageable. The East Division is not out of reach, nor is an eight-win campaign for the first time since 2003.

Key game: Oct. 27 vs. UCF. The East Division of Conference USA will be up for grabs in 2012, and the Herd wants to position itself to control the tip. While there is no true favorite in this half of the league, the road to the championship still might go through UCF. Dating back to 2004, Marshall has dropped seven straight in the series, and desperately needs to reverse course in order to challenge for divisional supremacy. This is the kind of meeting, if successful, that could propel the Herd in the pivotal final month of the season.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Marshall 9 – Opponents 19
- First-half scoring: Marshall 153– Opponents 249
- Time of possession: Marshall 28:49 - Opponents 30:04
- 2012 Marshall Preview | 2012 Marshall Offense
- 2012 Marshall Defense | 2012 Marshall Depth Chart