The Parthenon

A Season for Hope

Dylan Stone, For the Parthenon

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Hope springs eternal in the fall here at Marshall University; the hope for a successful Thundering Herd football season. This is especially true following last year’s debacle that saw the Herd finish with its worst record since 1981 at 3-9. In fact, following the season-ending 60-6 loss to Western Kentucky, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium no less, Herd head coach Doc Holliday remarked that he would immediately begin working to fix the issues that plagued Marshall throughout 2016. Holliday had no shortage of problems to try and fix.

When a team falls as short of expectations as Marshall did in 2016, multiple factors played into the team’s demise. For the most part though, three key problems existed with the play of last year’s squad.

First, was a largely ineffective defense that allowed opponents to score early. Marshall allowed the first score of the game in 10 of 12 games, and often, Marshall ranked 107th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring defense, allowing over 35 points per contest. The Herd has several newcomers along its defensive line, and with more seasoning for last season’s first and second year players, will hopefully add to a defensive turnaround. Add to that an experienced linebacking corps and Marshall has the makings for marked improvement from last season.

Secondly, Marshall struggled with injuries along its offensive line in 2016, which led to ineffectual run blocking and protection for quarterback Chase Litton. The lack of continuity among the o-line was felt as the Herd finished a lowly 122nd in rushing offense, according to NCAA statistics, which is by far the worst among Conference USA schools. Litton, who flourished as a starter for most of his freshman campaign in 2015, struggled to find a rhythm in games as his protection broke down and he was forced into short, quick throws.

With better health in 2017, the offensive line should again prove to be one of the conference’s better units, which would lead to more effective offensive play. The Herd will rely on a stable running backs led by junior transfer Trey Rodriguez. Rodriguez impressed throughout the spring and fall camp and was named the starter for the season opener with Miami (OH), but he will have plenty of help in the form of a pair of redshirt juniors. Keion Davis, who led the team in rushing touchdowns last season with six, will be back, as well as Anthony Anderson, who handled a good deal of work last year. Litton returns as the starter quarterback after playing in 21 games his first two seasons in kelly green and white. Despite the overall inconsistency with the offense in 2016, Litton played well for the most part, improving on many statistics from his freshman campaign. He will have to break in a new receiving group after the Herd lost virtually the entire group from last season, except for senior tight end Ryan Yurachek, but the talent is there for continued success in the passing game. Another year for Litton in the offensive system, along with the hopeful health of his offensive line and the deep receiving and tailback groups could mean big things are in store for the Herd on offense this season.

Lastly, the major area of weakness in the 2016, dreadful season was the Herd’s placekicking. Kicker Amoreto Curraj did not attempt enough field goals to qualify for the overall end of season leaders, but his .400 conversion percentage (4-10) would have ranked last among the 108 kickers that did qualify. Curraj also missed 3 of 42 extra point attempts after touchdowns. The inconsistency in the kicking game led to Holliday forgoing field goal attempts by and large in 2016, choosing instead to go for it on fourth downs and at times, taking points off the board. Curraj left the team over the summer and now the field goals and extra points fall on the shoulders (and right leg) of senior punter Kaare Vedvik. Vedvik has never attempted a field goal or extra point in his Herd career, but there is hope that he will be able to handle those duties as well as he handled punting last season. A reliable kicking game would serve to take pressure off both the offense and defense and can only help the Herd overcome last season’s results.

Marshall football and its fans had become quite accustomed to life at the top of Conference USA and its Eastern division over the three seasons prior to 2016. Last season was a struggle, not just for Holliday and his players, but for those fans as well. Marshall saw its lowest average attendance at the Joan since the 2009 season in 2016. If Doc Holliday can find the right prescription for a return to CUSA prominence in 2017, the fans will come and the stands will once again be full in Huntington. Because after all, in the fall, hope springs.

Dylan Stone can be contacted at [email protected]

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