Ok you caught me, this scene doesn’t really have that much to do with previewing Marshall’s football season. But, Marshall’s coach’s name is Doc Holliday, so it seemed like it would be a wasted opportunity. Also, Marshall’s Doc Holliday is also in his prime and his offense is real fast.
Replacing guys like Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler is tough regardless of if you’re Alabama or Eastern Michigan, but it does help when you are closer to Alabama. Marshall has recruited better than any other team over the last few years. It’s a big part of why they have double digit wins in two straight season, and it’s an even bigger part of why they are still one of the favorites to win the conference despite facing attrition.
Devon Johnson is the only football player I’ve ever heard of who converted from tight end to running back, and went on to rush for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns a season later. (Feel free to berate me in the comments for not knowing that Jim Brown or Walter Payton was a tight end in high school or whatever). The point is that despite Johnson’s origins, he’s one of the best runners in the conference, and with his former tight end frame he’s just as viable on the goal line as he is anywhere else on the field.
James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong has been named the starter, and he’s the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Birdsong started 14 games two years ago and threw for 2,700 yards and 22 TDs. One place that Cato left room for his successor to improve it was in protecting the football, particularly in the red zone. If Birdsong can improve, then this team’s ceiling is every bit as high as last year’s.
All-CUSA right tackle Clint Van Horn will be a key cog in both the running and passing game. Unfortunately, there isn’t much experience accompanying him up front. Michael Selby shifts to center after starting 14 games in his career at guard, and LG Sebastian Johansson is a two-year starter, but no other lineman on this team has started a game.
Tommy Shuler may be even tougher to replace than Rakeem Cato, when you consider that he caught more than three times the passes of any returning player. However, there are plenty of available replacements that are capable of filling his shoes. Deon-Tay McManus and Angelo Jean-Louis started on the outside last year, and Jean-Louis is the top deep threat in the conference. Well, he might be, or he could get beat out by teammate Davonte Allen a.k.a. the fastest receiver in the conference. Those three guys should make up a solid trio, but true freshman Raylen Enzy has the potential to step up and augment the production of these three.
Marshall had a solid defense last year, but it was much more solid against the pass than the run. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with only two starters returning on the front seven a further regression in the run defense is probable. It could also be a problem.
Jarquez Samuel and D.J. Hunter need to step up if they want to prevent a defensive slide. They are the aforementioned returning starters. Hunter, in particular, is a big returning piece at SLB. He had ten tackles for loss and five and a half sacks, which become even more critical when considering no defensive lineman had more than two sacks last year. There is plenty of depth up front and it’s talented, but not experienced. Somebody has to step up.
Everything that was just said about the front seven is inapplicable to the secondary. With three returning starters coming back to a top-25 pass defense, this should be a good unit again in 2015.
As a matter of fact, all of you West Virginia residents may be familiar with Tudor’s Biscuit World. Well, they have a menu item called the “Nasty Chicken”. For those that don’t know, it’s a chicken biscuit topped with sausage gravy, cheese whiz and jalapenos. This defensive backfield will be nastier than the “Nasty Chicken”. This nasty group will be led by the safeties Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett who picked off four passes apiece last year.
Prediction: 12-1 MAC Champion
Undefeated is still a possibility for the Thundering Herd, but that’s never likely for anybody facing this much turnover. The schedule is reasonable, and there’s a decent chance that Marshall is the favorite in every game, and deservedly so, but there are enough potential tripping points out there that one of them likely occurs. Opening the season with an improving Purdue isn’t a guaranteed win, even at home. After that, trips to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky in November are the most likely sources of a loss.
Credit Cover Photo to Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY Sports