HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A decade with Doc.
The Marshall University football team will begin its 10th season under current head coach John ‘Doc’ Holliday this fall, and the Thundering Herd have their sights set on continuing on an upward direction as they enter the 2019 campaign.
Holliday — who is 70-46 overall and 45-27 in Conference USA play over his nine previous seasons as MU frontman — inherited a program that had six consecutive non-winning seasons before his arrival in 2010, and the Herd has since posted six winning seasons under Holliday’s guidance … including two straight years of at least eight victories.
Coming off a 9-4 campaign that saw the Herd finish tied for second in the CUSA East Division with a 6-2 record, Marshall went on to post 38-20 victory over South Florida in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. That win also allowed the Green and White to improve to 6-0 under Holliday in bowl games.
As the Herd aims for its third consecutive winning season, they enter the 2019 season as the preseason favorite to not only win the CUSA East Division — but they are also the early favorite to come away with the CUSA championship.
Marshall won its only CUSA title under Holliday following a 13-1 effort in 2014, a season in which the Green and White also finished the year ranked 23rd in the final AP poll.
MU has some holes to fill due to graduation, but the Thundering Herd also returns plenty of veteran leadership in key spots on both sides of the ball.
Marshall will play seven of its 12 regular season games in the friendly confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium, but it also faces a quartet of stout non-conference tests in Virginia Military Institute, Boise State, Ohio and Cincinnati before opening Conference USA play.
Here’s a quick look at what Marshall has to work with entering the 2019 gridiron campaign.
The Thundering Herd is easily set up for a ground-and-pound approach this fall as five of the team’s top seven rushers return, as well as four starters on the line that have combined for 103 starts over their collective careers.
Tyler King led all MU runningbacks with 108 carries for 655 yards to go along with four rushing scores, while Brenden Knox was third on the squad with 68 rushes for 374 yards and two scores
CUSA co-freshman of the year Isaiah Green will be back behind the center after a season in which he completed 168-of-296 pass attempts for 2,239 yards, which included 14 touchdowns to go with nine interceptions.
The Herd lost a two-time all-conference performer in Tyre Brady to the NFL, but MU still returns seven of its top 11 receivers to the perimeter — plus added a handful of Division I transfers to the mix.
Obi Obialo was the second leading receiver for Marshall a year ago, making him the most experienced threat on the outside. Tight end Armani Levias was also an all-conference selection last year at the tight end position.
Safety Malik Gant left the program a year early and was picked up by New England, while graduation cost the program linebackers Chase Hancock and Frankie Hernandez … the team’s top three tacklers last fall.
Graduation also claimed standout defensive linemen Ty Tyler and Ryan Bee, two of the more disruptive forces up front for the Herd.
However, Channing Hames returns up front after leading MU in tackles for loss last year with 10.
A good portion of Marshall’s secondary returns to the mix as Chris Jackson, Kereon Merrell, Nazeeh Johnson, Brandon Drayton and Jaylon McClain-Sapp are all back — with that quintet accounting for half of the Herd’s top pass defenders.
All five returning defensive backs also had at least one interception a season ago.
Omari Cobb is the most experienced linebacker returning to the mix, as Cobb and Hames were two of Marshall’s top three sack leaders from a year ago. They are also the only two returnees in the top eight spots for sacks last fall.
Overall, Marshall returns only four of its top 10 tacklers from the 2018 campaign.
Placekicker Justin Rohrwasser returns after connecting on 15-of-21 field goal attempts while also converting 42-of-43 point-after tries. Rohrwasser — who also handled kickoff duties — converted a season-long 40-yard field goal against Florida Atlantic.
Punter Robert LeFevre had 58 punts for 2,367 yards, which averaged out to 40.8 yards per boot — including a season-best 60-yarder against Middle Tennessee.
Marshall’s top punt returner (Marcel Williams) and leading kickoff returner (Keion Davis) were both lost to graduation.
MU outscored opponents by a 347-243 overall margin last year while also outrushing the opposition by a 1,920-1,197 margin. … Marshall also produced 43 touchdowns offensively, 15 more than its opponents. … The Herd also finished the year plus-8 in turnover differential. … MU joins Clemson and Wisconsin as the only Division I programs in the country with five bowl victories in the last six years.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.