Before the season I asked Ryan Yurachek and Doc Holliday about the previous season’s failures. The answers were typical coach-and-player speak: “We didn’t coach well enough” and “It just kind of slipped away”.
In 2016 Marshall could not stop anyone, as the defense gave up 35.3 a game and 32 ppg in league play. The defense then, was the focus coming into the year. Herd fans can be satisfied with the improvement to being the only team that gave conference-champ FAU even the slightest trouble.
Marshall held the Owls to only 30 points — the lowest winning total for Lane Kiffin’s boys all year — and managed 25 on the road. The problem was that JR QB Chase Litton threw four interceptions. He finished the year with 14, his worst in three years as a starter. He threw more attempts this season than ever, even if his attempts were his lowest in his three seasons.
His 239 yards per game were his lowest of his career even if his total yardage was up — he surpassed 3,000 yards for the first time. The run game did not help him out much. While the rush yards per game were up to 140, an improvement over the last-place 2016 effort of 89 per game, it was still far below the Marshall standard.
In they heyday of 2014, Marshall led the conference in rush yards per game at 200+. The run game and the pass game were not doing much but the defense was back to the old form. That is the story of Marshall 2017. A nice-looking 6-1 start (only losing to NC State) put the Thundering Herd in the conversation for winning the division — especially with WKU stumbling.
Then an inexplicable loss to FIU at home changed the divison hopes. The big matchup with FAU less than a week later was the deciding point of the Marshall season. A win, and Marshall just needed a little help and Holliday’s guys would win the division. As it was, the loss sealed the fate — there would be no conference post-season.
Winning the next week against WKU at home against a rival was huge bbut the following two performances were disappointing: losses at UTSA 7-9 and home against Southern Miss 27-28.
The offense will be addressed this offseason with long time offensive coordinator Bill Legg resigning. The defense will have to find some stability, however, as Chuck Heater left for Maryland.
The New Mexico Bowl win over Colorado State, was indicative of all the good that is the Marshall program. The name recognition is one reason the bowl organizers were excited to invite the Herd, even if the distance was unusual. Marshall had not played that far west previously. Marshall largely dominated the game until a late couple of scores by the Rams made it interesting.
The new OC will have a senior QB and that makes things infinitely more bearable. As we saw at North Texas and at Tech the last decade — a good QB can make all the difference in this league.
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