CFN Preview 2013 - Marshall Thundering Herd
Marshall QB Rakeem Cato
Marshall QB Rakeem Cato
Posted May 29, 2013 2013 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall Thundering Herd

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Doc Holliday
4th year: 17-20
Returning Lettermen
Off. 26, Def. 21, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Marshall Players
1. QB Rakeem Cato, Jr.
2. WR Tommy Shuler, Jr.
3. TE Gator Hoskins, Sr.
4. DE Jeremiah Taylor, Sr.
5. LB Jermaine Holmes, Jr.
6. SS D.J. Hunter, Soph.
7. RB Kevin Grooms, Soph.
8. NT Brandon Sparrow, Sr.
9. DE Alex Bazzie, Sr.
10. RB Steward Butler, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Miami University
9/7 Gardner-Webb
9/14 at Ohio
9/21 at Virginia Tech
10/5 UTSA
10/12 at Florida Atlantic
10/19 at Middle Tenn
11/2 Southern Miss
11/9 UAB
11/16 at Tulsa
11/23 at FIU
11/30 East Carolina
Fourth-year head coach Doc Holliday can clearly recruit talent. But it's about time for him to start attracting a few more wins to Huntington.

Holliday arrived as the successor to Mark Snyder with a long-standing reputation as one of the game's top recruiters. He's charming and persuasive, all the things that help turn a target into a student-athlete on Signing Day. Yet, while the Marshall roster has clearly been upgraded over the last few seasons, its results have remained stagnant and unimpressive.

It's now been a full decade since the Thundering Herd was a champion. Since 2002, the year Marshall won the MAC and 11 games, it has gone nine consecutive seasons of losing at least six games. Last fall was supposed to be different. Instead, it was business as usual, as the Herd lacked consistency from start to finish and went 5-7. The Rakeem Cato-led offense more than carried its weight, but the D was atrocious, allowing at least 51 points on five separate weekends.

In an effort to address his sagging defense, Holliday hired Chuck Heater, a close friend and a West Virginia native. Heater's directive is simple—maximize the talent on hand, while improving the fundamentals of a unit that looked lost throughout the 2012 campaign. The Herd doesn't house many can't-miss defenders, but it does have a bunch of try-hard veterans determined to initiate progress on this side of the ball.

Marshall has no such problems on offense. With Cato in charge, the Herd led the country in passing, while averaging 534 yards and 41 points per game. More of the same is expected in 2013. Yeah, big-play WR Aaron Dobson is a New England Patriot, but WR Tommy Shuler and TE Gator Hoskins can shoulder the load, and the Kevin Grooms-led backfield is going to produce a ton of exciting plays this season.

It's Year 4 for Holliday. The quarterback is among the most prolific in college football. And Conference USA has lost three of its toughest members to the American Athletic Conference. It's time for the coach and his staff of assistants to start turning all of that talent in the locker room into more victories in the fall.

What to watch for on offense: Chunk yards from the running backs. Opposing defenses will enter every weekend with a gameplan to stop QB Rakeem Cato and the passing attack. Wise move, but it'll also invite the Herd to take advantage by unleashing the complementary backfield trio of Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson. As rookies, the three backs combined for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. They represent the secret weapons of an offense possessing an underrated level of balance and pop in the running game.

What to watch for on defense: The impact of the rookie linebackers. New coordinator Chuck Heater needs help everywhere, but a general influx of speed and youth sure would be nice. The Herd expects to employ three freshmen linebackers in the two-deep rotation. Stefan Houston has already climbed to the top spot at strongside. Kent Turene, an original commit to Georgia, is closely quickly at weakside. And Jeremy Benjamin was the 42nd-ranked high school middle linebacker. Marshall has defensive issues, but the future is looking brighter, especially on the second level.

This team will be far better if … the D can make even a few more key stops than it did a year ago. The Herd ranked 99th nationally in third-down defense and 113th in red-zone touchdowns yielded. In other words, when it mattered most, Marshall disappeared in 2012. Now, the program is prolific enough on offense to win high-scoring games. However, this is a school that dropped games last fall in which it scored 34, 41, 38, 31 and 59 points, a clear indictment of an overmatched defense.

The Schedule: There's no West Virginia this season, but going to Ohio will be sneaky-tough before hitting the road to face Virginia Tech. Fortunately, the conference start couldn't be any easier with UTSA and road games at Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee wrapped around two bye weeks. Follow those up against a Southern Miss team that went winless last year and a good, not great, UAB squad, and everything should set up nicely for a possible Conference USA title game preview at Tulsa. The season could revolve around the regular season finale against East Carolina. 

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Rakeem Cato. At 6-0 and 184 pounds, Cato will never make NFL scouts swoon, but he's become the ideal triggerman for a Marshall attack that likes to spread the field with playmakers. The game began to slow down for the record-setting junior last season, as he connected on 406-of-584 passes for 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 11 picks. Cato sees the field well, makes good decisions and rarely forces the issue. He's tailor-made for another monster statistical season.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Jeremiah Taylor. Taylor has been one of the more consistent Marshall defenders over the past couple of seasons, a rarity in Huntington on this side of the ball. The 6-4, 259-pounder led by example last season, getting named a team captain before opening day. He went on to make 54 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and a team-high 5.5 sacks. A hard-working, blue-collar former walk-on, Taylor has enough size to defend the run, with the quickness to penetrate the pocket.

Key players to a successful season: The cornerbacks. The Herd pass defense ought to be improved from last season. It can't be much worse after yielding 30 touchdown passes and picking off only nine. The secondary actually boasts pretty good depth at corner. Projected starters Derrick Thomas and Darryl Roberts will be better after transferring from Penn State and sitting out all of 2012, respectively. Plus, backups Monterius Lovett and Keith Baxter were starters last fall. Marshall has the bodies, but now it has to transform all of that experience into on-field production.

The season will be a success if ... the Thundering Herd wins no less than the East Division. Marshall has enough returning talent to capture Conference USA, but nabbing one-half of the league would qualify as a step in the right direction. Marshall has never participated in the conference's championship game, which began in 2005. UCF, on the other hand, played in four of the eight games, but has left for the American Athletic Conference to create an opening in the East.

Key game: Nov. 29 vs. East Carolina. There's a good chance that this regular-season finale at Joan C. Edwards Stadium will decide who faces the West Division champ a week later for the Conference USA title. The Herd and the Pirates both like to air it out, and have played in some thrillers over the years. Last November's meeting in Greenville required two overtimes and featured 17 touchdowns before East Carolina pulled away, 65-59, in what could be a precursor of things to come in 2013.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: Marshall 40.9 – Opponents 43.1
- Passing yards per game: Marshall 365.1 – Opponents 253.5
- Sacks: Marshall 19 - Opponents 29
- 2013 Marshall Preview | 2013 Marshall Offense
- 2013 Marshall Defense | 2013 Marshall Depth Chart