Marshall Thundering Herd: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·12 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Marshall football season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Marshall Football Schedule
– Marshall Thundering Herd Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 7-3 overall, 4-2 in C-USA
Head Coach: Charles Huff, 1st year
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 67
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 90
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 35

Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Offense

Everything was going along just fine over the first seven games – even with a few hiccups – and then it all crashed. The offense failed to get to 270 yards in any of the last three games, the passing game fell flat, the ground game went nowhere, and now there’s a new regime.

New head coach Charles Huff is a young coach who knows offense. A longtime assistant, he helped handle the running backs at Alabama over the last two seasons on the way to get here. He knows running backs, but offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey is still around even after the problems of last year.

Even with the late collapse, Marshall still averaged 391 yards and was second in the conference averaging close to 29 points per game. Nine starters are expected back, starting with …

Grant Wells. He stepped up and made the quarterback job his, taking over right away and throwing for over 2,000 yards and 18 scores and nine picks. The 6-2, 210-pounder doesn’t add a whole lot to the ground game, but he’s a solid passer who can move the ball around. The backup situation is very, very thin. There’s sophomore Luke Zban, and that’s about it.

The side receivers are strong. 6-4, 227-pound sophomore Corey Gammage led the team with 35 catches, All-Conference USA tight end Xavier Gaines was second with 28 grabs – he can stretch the field – the rest of the main targets are back except for Artie Henry (Virginia) and Broc Thompson (Purdue) who left through the transfer portal.

The offensive front was fourth in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed and only allowed 1.2 sacks per game. Three starters are back, but Tarik Adams is a big tackle who’s part of the mix and North Carolina transfer Billy Ross will play a role.

Again, the new head man knows how to coach up running backs, but he doesn’t have leading rusher Brenden Knox around to work with. Sheldon Evans is a good 200-pound back who ran for 327 yards and four scores as a part of the rotation, and 218-pound sophomore Knowledge McDaniel adds more power and pop averaging six yards per carry.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Marshall Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Defense

All new defensive coordinator Lance Guidry has to do is keep the best D in the league rolling. The Thundering Herd were second in the nation allowing just 279 yards per game and No. 1 in the country in scoring D, giving up just 13 points per game.

No one could run on this group – it allowed 96 yards per game – and allowed more than 17 points just once in the 22-13 Conference USA title loss to UAB. With eight starters expected to return, don’t expect much of a drop-off, if any.

The linebacking corps lost two-time leading tackler and star Tavante Beckett from the linebacking corps, but 240-pound Eli Neal is a good, big-hitter who’ll work in the middle again after finishing second on the team with 75 tackles with five tackles for loss and Abraham Beauplan is a nice veteran on the outside. The safety-sized Beckett was the main man, but this group will still be strong.

Darius Hodge was the star pass rusher from the front four, but he’s done. The rest of the line returns around 270-pound All-Conference USA tackle Jamare Edwards – this group was a rock against the run. There’s not a lot of bulk, but there’s plenty of depth for the rotation.

The secondary doesn’t have veteran safety Derek Pitts around – he left for NC State – but senior Brandon Drayton is a good tackler who can handle an even bigger role.

There weren’t a whole lot of picks from the secondary, but safety Nazeeh Johnson led the way with two, and Steven Gilmore is an all-star corner who might be the team’s best player.6.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Marshall Football Schedule

NEXT: Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Marshall Thundering Herd Offensive Player

QB Grant Wells, RFr.
It wasn’t a total shocker that he took over the starting job after coming to the program as one of the better quarterback recruits in a long time, but he still made a big splash right out of the gate once he got his shot.

It was only Eastern Kentucky, but Wells rocked in the opening with 307 yards and four scores, bombing away for over 13 yards per pass. He sputtered at times – he struggled to get anything going in the win over Appalachian State and the loss to UAB – and the five interceptions against Rice were a total meltdown.

He’s still accurate, he still has a world of upside, and he’s going to keep getting better as the face of the franchise for the next few years.

2. TE Xavier Gaines, Sr.
3. WR Corey Gammage, Soph.
4. OG Alex Mollette, Sr.
5. WR Willie Johnson, Sr.


Marshall Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best Marshall Thundering Herd Defensive Player

CB Steven Gilmore, Jr.
Marshall has a loaded group of defensive backs returning, and Gilmore is the star of the show. The 5-11, 175-pounder came up with 39 tackles with an interception and 12 broken up passes in his all-star season, and now he’s a tough veteran who should be even more dangerous.

Part corner and part nickel defender, he showed promise over his first two years with a good 50-tackle 2019 season with two picks. Last year he bulked up a bit, was an even tougher tackler, and he seemed like he broke up every pass that came his way.

2. S Nazeeh Johnson, Sr.
3. DT Jamare Edwards, Jr.
4. LB Eli Neal Soph.
5. S Brandon Drayton, Sr.

Top Incoming Marshall Thundering Herd Transfer

OT Billy Ross, Jr.
Penn State defensive lineman Shane Simmons is sure to make a big impact – he was a good recruit for the Nittany Lions who made 59 tackles with four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in his four seasons – but the Herd mostly needs to beef up the offensive side.

The Herd lost all-star Cain Madden to Notre Dame, and now – after opting out on the 2020 season – the 6-5, 320-pound Ross comes in from North Carolina who can play almost anywhere on the line.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Marshall Football Schedule

NEXT: Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Marshall Thundering Herd Biggest Key: Offense

Keep the chains moving … on fourth down.

There weren’t a whole lot of issues on third downs, but going for it didn’t work.

Yes, the running game has to get going again after dying late – the Herd couldn’t do much of anything on the ground in the last three games and couldn’t go anywhere against Florida Atlantic in a close early win.

Yes, the passing attack has to make up for the issues when the ground attack isn’t working – it didn’t. But for an O that needs to get its momentum back and sometimes doesn’t have a huge margin for error, just converting on fourth downs is a big deal.

The Herd converted both fourth down attempts against EKU to start the season, but it missed at least one try in each of the last nine games.

It was a particular problem in the 20-0 loss to Rice when the Herd tried to get anything working – they missed on all three tries – and converted on just 1-of-3 times in the 22-13 Conference USA championship loss to UAB.

Marshall Thundering Herd Biggest Key: Defense

Finding more tackles for loss would be nice. There’s no arguing with what the Marshall defense was able to do – or should do going forward. However, most of the key plays behind the line came from Darius Hodge and Tavante Beckett, and they’re both gone.

Again, there’s no real beef with anything one of the nation’s best defenses was able to do, but averaging five tackles for loss over the last two years is way low – especially compared to the 2018 line that lived in the backfield.

The D came up with ten tackles for loss against UMass, but who didn’t? That was part of a nice midseason run of big plays in the backfield, but the D didn’t do anything against UAB or in the bowl loss to Buffalo – just four tackles for loss in the two games.

Marshall Thundering Herd Key Player To A Successful Season

RB Sheldon Evans, Jr.
Brenden Knox was a special back for the program. He ran for close to 3,000 yards with 24 touchdowns and averaged over five yards per carry, but after hitting the 100-yard mark in five straight games, he couldn’t carry the offense down the stretch and sat out the bowl game before turning pro early.

That opened the door for Evans – and others – but he struggled a bit with just 79 yards on 18 carries in the loss to Buffalo. Going forward, Evans and Knowledge McDaniel – with ran for 54 yards and a score against Buffalo – have to pick up the rushing slack.

Marshall Thundering Herd Key Game To The 2021 Season

WKU, Nov. 27
WKU has been solid at times over the last few years, but it lost four straight to Marshall. Before that, the Hilltoppers were 3-0 in the series, and now they have to go to Huntington to end the regular season in what should decide the East title.

Florida Atlantic will have a say – that’s a road game for Marshall – but it should come down to the end. The East is the better of the two divisions, but there’s a shot Marshall blows through the conference slate before the showdown.

Marshall Football Schedule

2020 Marshall Thundering Herd Fun Stats

– 3rd Quarter Scoring: Marshall 99 – Opponents 34
– Red Zone Scores: Marshall 31-of-37 (84%) – Opponents 16-of-24 (67%)
– Fumbles: Opponents 15 (lost 10) – Marshall 6 (lost 2)

NEXT: Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Marshall Thundering Herd College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Ohhhhhhh no. There is no grace period here.

There’s no rebuilding, and there’s not even any real remodeling to be done here. There are merely a few renovations and a maybe a day project, but this isn’t anything that needs to be totally overhauled despite the stunning collapse late last year.

The Doc Holliday era was terrific. He built a consistently solid run at Marshall with bowl games the norm, bowl wins also the norm, and being in the hunt for the Conference USA title on an annual basis expected.

The problem is that last part. As great as the Herd were at times, they struggled at finishing the drill no conference titles since rolling to a 13-1 run in 2014.

There were some close calls and good moments, but for all the success there just weren’t the right breaks to get over the hump.
And then came 2020. It should’ve worked.

The defense was a brick wall, the schedule was more than manageable, and everything was in place to not only win the Conference USA title, but to go undefeated doing it.

20-0 to Rice. That should’ve been nothing more than a brain-cramp, but it kept going into another dud of an offensive performance in the Conference USA title loss to UAB, which then went one step further with a maddening bowl loss to Buffalo.

So now it’s up to new head man Charles Huff to bring that extra oomph to get across the finish line.

Set The Marshall Thundering Herd Regular Season Win Total At … 8.5

The defense might not lead the nation in scoring D, but it’ll be a killer again. The offense has too many parts and too much attention to keep the late season 2020 slide going, and there’s the new energy to the program that only a first time young head coach can bring.

Oh, and the schedule is nice and breezy, too.

There aren’t any games against Power Five programs, and key Conference USA games against UAB and WKU are in Huntington.

There isn’t a game the Herd can’t and shouldn’t win, but going on the road to deal with Navy and Appalachian State will be a problem, and there should be a pesky loss or two somewhere along the way.

But this team should have everything in place to win the East again, it should get back to the Conference USA championship game, and it needs to get the winning bowl groove back.

The new guy is stepping into an already good situation. All he has to do is win right away.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
Marshall Schedule Analysis

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