The Marshall Thundering Herd Breakdown

Maryland will take on Marshall in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. Here's an early look at the Thundering Herd and what they bring to the table.

Maryland will take on Marshall in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. Marshall (9-4, 7-1 Conference USA) is coming off a loss to Rice in the conference title game, but the Herd features an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense.

Here's an early look at the Thundering Herd and what they bring to the table:

Depth Chart:

Offense: Spread

QB: Rakeem Cato (6-0, 188, Jr.)
RB: Essray Tallaferro (5-9, 183, Sr.), Steward Butler (5-9, 178, So.), Kevin Grooms (5-10, 168, So.)
WR: Devon Smith (5-7, 155, Sr.), Demetrius Evans (5-11, 198, Sr.), Tommy Shuler (5-7, 190, Jr.), Craig Wilkins (6-0, 175, Jr.)
OL: LT Garrett Scott (6-5, 294, Sr.), LG Sebastian Johansson (6-4, 284, So.), C Chris Jasperse (6-4, 289, Jr.), RG Alex Schooler (6-7, 303, Sr.), RT Clint Van Horn (6-4, 294, So.)
TE: Gator Hoskins (6-2, 244, Sr.)

Defense: 4-3

DE: Ra'Shawde Myers (6-4, 246, Jr.), Arnold Blackmon (6-1, 242, Jr.)
NT: Brandon Sparrow (6-3, 305, Sr.), Jarquez Samuel (6-4, 276, So.)
DT: James Rouse (6-5, 268, Sr.), Steve Dillon (6-3, 267, So.)
DE: Alex Bazzie (6-1, 228, Sr.), Gary Thompson (6-1, 227, Fr.)
SLB: Stefan Houston (6-3, 220, Fr.)
MLB: Jermaine Holmes (5-11, 243, Jr.), Evan McKelvey (6-1, 205, So.)
WLB: Neville Hewitt (6-2, 220, Jr.), Raheem Waiters (6-0, 218, Jr.)
CB: Monterius Lovett (5-11, 171, Sr.), Derrick Thomas (6-0, 180, Sr.)
SS: Tiquan Lang (5-9, 171, Fr.), D.J. Hunter (6-0, 202, So.)
FS: Taj Letman (6-2, 186, So.) CB: Darryl Roberts (5-11, 176, Jr.)
NB: Corey Tindal (5-9, 173, Fr.)

Special Teams

P: Tyler Williams (6-0, 195, So.)
K: Justin Haig (5-8, 182, Jr.)
PR: Devon Smith (5-7, 155, Sr.)
KR: DeAndre Reaves (5-10, 176, So.)
KOS: Amoreto Curraj (6-2, 190, Fr.)


Stats/Notes:

Quarterback

Rakeem Cato: 270-for-455, 3,579 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 275.3 yards per game, 147.57 efficiency rating. 279 rushing yards, six touchdowns.
-- Note: Cato has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 straight games, tied for the most among active BCS quarterbacks. … Cato's 3,579 passing yards is seventh all-time at Marshall for a single season… Cato's 275.3 yards per game ranks 17th in the country. … Cato's 147.6 efficiency rating ranks 28th nationally.

Running Backs

Essray Taliaferro: 202 attempts, 1,059 yards, 5.2 YPC, nine touchdowns
Steward Butler: 86 attempts, 762 yards, 8.9 YPC, eight touchdowns
Kevin Grooms: 91 attempts, 503 yards, 5.5 YPC, six touchdowns
-- Note: Marshall uses all three backs, though Taliaferro is the feature runner … Taliaferro ranks 56th nationally at 81.5 yards per game…. Marshall backs have lost 13 fumbles this year…. Marshall averages 5.1 yards per carry

Receivers

Tommy Shuler: 97 catches, 1,097 yards, nine touchdowns
Gator Hoskins: 44 receptions, 717 yards, 13 touchdowns
Devon Smith: 34 receptions, 599 yards, four touchdowns
Craig Wilkins: 29 receptions, 373 yards, two touchdowns
-- Note: Tommy Shuler's 1,097 yards ranks 23rd nationally … Shuler's 7.5 catches per game ranks 12th … Gator Hoskins' 13 touchdown catches is tied for seventh most nationally… Marshall averages 13.2 YPC

Defensive Line

Ra'Shawde Myers: 50 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, seven QB hits
Brandon Sparrow: 36 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five TFLs, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble
James Rouse: 35 tackles, 12 TFLs, four sacks, one forced fumble, one blocked kick
Alex Bazzie: 59 tackles, nine TFLs, one sack, 10 breakups, two forced fumbles, one recovery, eight QB hits
Jarquez Samuel: 24 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, five QB hits
Steve Dillon: 25 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks
Arnold Blackmon 20 tackles, six TFLs
-- Note: Myers leads the team with 4.5 sacks … Rouse leads the team with 12 TFLs…Bazzie leads the team with two forced fumbles… Marshall's defense is holding foes to just 3.7 yards per carry …

Linebackers

Jermaine Holmes: 82 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, two sacks, one interception
Neville Hewitt: 78 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
Stefan Houston: 38 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks
Gary Thompson: 27 tackles, five TFLs, three sacks, two interceptions, 11 breakups, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble
Evan McKelvey: 88 tackles, five TFLs, 0.5 racks, one interception, one forced fumble
Raheem Waiters: 24 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, one interception
-- Note: McKelvey doesn't start but still leads the team with 88 tackles … Holmes is second on the team with 82 tackles and third with 8.5 TFLs… Thompson is second on the team with three sacks… Thompson leads the team with 11 breakups and is also tied for second with two picks … Houston has just two starts this year after ascending to the No. 1 spot late. …

Secondary

Corey Tindal: 55 tackles, five TFLs, 1.5 sacks, seven breakups, two fumble recoveries
Darryl Roberts: 52 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, two interceptions, eight breakups, one blocked kick
D.J. Hunter: 50 tackles, 1.5 TFLs
Taj Letman: 50 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, one interception, four breakups
A.J. Leggett: 42 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, three interceptions
Tiquan Lang: 33 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, one interception, one forced fumble
Monterius Lovett: 28 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, two interceptions, 10 breakups
-- Note: Leggett leads the team with three picks … Lovett is second on the team with 10 breakups … The Marshall pass defense is ranked 26th nationally... Against Rice, Derrick Thomas had to step in for the injured Darryl Roberts, who is expected back for the bowl game.

Special Teams

Deandre Reaves: 25 yards per kick return
Devon Smith: 15.5 yards per punt return, one touchdown
Justin Haig: 10-of-15 field goals; no attempts over 50 yards; 2-for-3 from 40-49; 5-of-9 from 30-39; 3-of-3 from 20-29; long of 42 yards
Tyler Williams: 42.5 punt average, 13 50-yard punts, nine punts inside 20, four touchbacks
Amoreto Curraj: 63.6 kickoff average, 50 touchbacks in 90 kicks
-- Note: Smith is ranked 10th nationally in PR returns … Reaves is ranked 30th nationally in KO returns… Haig's 67 percent field-goal success rate is 86th in Division I-A … Williams' 42.5 average is 38th in Division I-A.

Explosive Offense: Although much of its offense came against Conference USA foes, Marshall had an impressive 2013 under coordinator Bill Legg to say the least. The Herd -- which features an up-tempo (that may be an understatement) spread that averages almost 80 plays per game, more than almost every team in college football -- is scoring 43 points per game, seventh in the nation. Behind junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, Marshall has the No. 21 passing offense nationally at 291.2 yards per game and more than 13 yards per completion. The rushing attack, meanwhile, is ranked 22nd at 211 yards per game and 5.12 yards per carry. Combined, the Herd is averaging 502 yards per game, putting them among the top 12 teams in the country. Of course, when Marshall played a higher-caliber foe in Virginia Tech, the Herd came back down to earth (see description below), so some of those potent totals could be inflated.

The Defense Isn't Bad Either: Marshall's offense often garners the headlined, but its defense -- which starts in a base 4-3 and moves to a 4-2-5 and even a 3-3-5 on occasion -- is actually ranked 35th nationally at 367 yards allowed per game. Opponents score just over 23 points per against the Herd (No. 34), although its last two foes, Rice and East Carolina, both topped that total. Marshall, as a direct result of its quick-strike offense, can tire and has given up several big plays this year, but for the most part the Herd's athletic, playmaking defense has put up a representative effort under coordinator Chuck Heater. The rushing defense is surrendering almost 158 yards per outing, 56th nationally, but the secondary has kept opponents to less than 210 yards per game (No. 23).

An Unfamiliar Foe: Although Marshall is a regional foe and Maryland has played West Virginia plenty of times over the years, the Terps have never met the Thundering Herd on the football field before. In fact, Marshall has only played ACC teams 10 times in its history, going 1-9 in those matchups. The one victory came in 1999 when Marshall downed Clemson, 13-10, on its way to a 13-0 campaign. The Herd is 0-4 against Va Tech, 0-3 against N.C. State and has lost once each to N.C. State, Miami and North Carolina (all while members of the ACC).

…But There is a Common Foe: While there isn't much "crossover" between Maryland and Marshall, the two squads did play one common opponent this season: Virginia Tech. The Terps, of course, had scored a major upset in Blacksburg back in mid-November with a 27-24 overtime victory. The Herd also took the Hokies to overtime, but fell in the third extra period, 29-21.

Here's how the two teams fared against Tech from a statistical standpoint:

Total Offense: Maryland: 319, Marshall: 361
Rushing Yards: Maryland: 184, Marshall: 133
Yards Per Rush: Maryland: 4.7, Marshall: 2.9
Passing Yards: Maryland: 135, Marshall: 228
Yards Allowed: Maryland: 264, Marshall: 382
Passing Yards Allowed: Maryland: 210, Marshall: 181
Rushing Yards Allowed: Maryland: 54, Marshall: 201
Sacks Allowed: Maryland: 7, Marshall: 4
Turnovers: Maryland: 2, Marshall: 3
Time of Possession: Maryland: 26 minutes, Marshall: 26 minutes
Third Down Efficiency: Maryland: 6-of-17, Marshall: 9-of-20
Penalties: Maryland: 4 for 39 yards, Marshall: 11 for 66 yards


Not Exactly the Bowl They Wanted: Marshall ended its regular season with a rather lackluster effort in the Conference USA title game, falling to Rice, 41-24. If Marshall would have won the game, it would have gone to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. Instead, the Liberty took Rice, while the Military Bowl claimed the Herd, which is exactly the team the latter bowl coveted. While Huntington, W.Va., is still about six hours from Annapolis, the Military Bowl still expects plenty of Herd fans to show up and help fill Navy Marine-Corps Stadium. If Rice would have been selected, well … let's just say the Military Bowl would have probably had to rely mostly on Terps fans filling the place. Moreover, this game should be a boon to Marshall's bottom line as Conference USA allows the school to keep the first $100,000 it accumulates in ticket sales.

Conference USA Recap: Marshall ran through its conference schedule with a 7-1 mark before falling to Rice in the Conference USA championship game, 41-24. The Thundering Herd lost a shootout against Middle Tennessee, 51-49, but beat the rest of its conference foes by an average of 47-23. The finale against Rice, however, exposed Marshall -- especially the offensive and defensive lines -- although the game was played in Houston, Texas, on the Owls' home field.

Even so, the Herd came out flat, and after falling behind 14-0 -- Marshall has now allowed opponents to score first in five of seven road games -- never really recovered. Rice rolled up 487 total yards (248 rushing, 239 passing) on a normally solid Marshall defense, while the Owls kept an explosive Herd offense at bay until MU made it respectable with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Marshall had not allowed more yards per play (7.4) or yards per carry (5.2) than they did in the Conference USA title game. When Rice opened up a 34-10 lead, and then a 41-17 advantage, those where the two largest deficits Marshall had faced all year.

Offensively, the Herd managed only 2.9 yards per carry, and while savvy quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 265 yards and two scores, he threw a galling second-half interception that Rice turned into a touchdown. It was only Cato's third interception in the last six games. Marshall had scored 45 or more points in six straight games until Rice held the Herd to about half that total.

Marshall in Bowl Games: Marshall has played in 10 bowl games during its history, going 7-3 in those postseason bouts. The Herd's first ever postseason bowl came in 1948 when it lost the Tangerine Bowl to Catawba, 7-0. Their most recent appearance was two years ago when Marshall beat FIU in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl, 20-10. The Herd has played in the Motor City Bowl five times, the GMAC bowl twice and once each in the Fort Worth, Little Caesars, Tangerine and Beef ‘O' Brady's bowls.

Getting it Done in the Red Zone: Marshall's offense can put up points in a hurry, and its no surprise this team converts when it's knocking on opponents' goal lines. The Herd have penetrated the red zone 61 times this year and come away with 56 scores, the sixth best conversion rate in the country. Marshall has scored an eye-popping 48 touchdowns (26 rushing, 22 passing) when inside the 20-yard line and settled for a field goal just eight times. During its last game against Rice, Marshall converted all four red-zone possessions, scoring three touchdowns and kicking one field goal.

Converting on Third Down: Only five teams – LSU, Louisville, Navy, Florida State and Georgia Tech – rank ahead of Marshall in third-down conversion percentage. Most teams are having a solid day if they move the chains 40 percent of the time on third down. Marshall? The Herd have succeeded on 52.3 percent of their attempts. The Herd "only" went 7-for-17 against Rice during the season finale, but that's hardly a lamentable rate.

But the Red Zone/Third Down Defense… Isn't quite as proficient. Marshall's red-zone defense has allowed foes to score 82 percent of the time, a rate that ranks 48th nationally. Teams have penetrated the Herd's 20-yard line 50 times and come away with a gaudy 30 touchdowns and 11 field goals. Rice, for its part, crossed the goal line four times in four attempts during the Conference USA title game.

Marshall's third-down defense, meanwhile, has for the most part been solid. They are allowing opponents to move the chains about 35 percent of the time in such situations, which is 27th nationally and ranks just a few ticks behind Maryland. Rice was 8-of-14 on third down, however, so the Herd's defense might be susceptible against stronger foes.

Too Much Yellow: For a team as proficient as the Herd, it's actually quite surprising they see about six flags per game, an average that sits 81st in the country. They have been penalized 78 times this year, compared to only 53 for Maryland. Marshall did fare better against Rice, however, with only four infractions for 40 yards.

Taking the Ball Away: The Herd's defense has been opportunistic, forcing 25 turnovers this year, an average of almost two per game. Marshall is currently tied for 29th nationally, picking off 17 passes and recovering eight fumbles. The Herd did not record a turnover against Rice, however.

Giveth it Back: Marshall may force its share of miscues, but the offense has given the ball away a good amount as well. The Herd's turnover margin is only plus-two, meaning the offense has been the victim of 23 takeaways. Marshall turned it over once against Rice, a Cato pick, and has 13 lost fumbles and 10 interceptions this season.

Because Marshall Scores So Quickly … Its time of possession is ranked among the worst in the country. Marshall holds the ball for about 27 minutes per game, and only 10 teams have it less in Division I-A.

Pass Rushing/Blocking: Marshall has plenty of skill players, but the trenchmen, while they've had their moments (see: rushing average), haven't dominated. The D-line doesn't generate much of a pass rush, while the O-line has given up its share of sacks. Marshall is 61st in the country with 25 sacks surrendered, while the defense has chipped in 29 quarterback takedowns (53rd nationally). At the same time, the Herd has done well hitting opposing runners in the backfield and springing their own backs. Marshall sits in the top 30 nationally in both tackles for loss (7.3 per game) and tackles for loss allowed (4.77 per game).

Punt/Kick Coverage: Marshall's special teams units is detailed in the individual section at the top, but here's how the team is doing in terms of covering kicks. The Herd ranks 26th in the country in kick coverage, allowing foes to return the ball about 19 yards. The punt team, however, has been susceptible to long gainers this season. Not only is Marshall's 9.29 return average 79th nationally, but the Herd has surrendered two punt-return touchdowns this year.

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