BOGACZYK: Some Football Fodder for Herd Offseason
The Word on the Herd-April 26, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- With Marshall's spring practice in the rearview mirror, here's a collection of Marshall football facts and figures for Herd fans to chew on through summer, pointing toward the 2015 season opener against Purdue on Sept. 6:
Well-grounded: The Herd will have a new starting quarterback in 2015, but the guts of a potent ground game return in backs Devon Johnson and Steward Butler and three of five 2014 starters on the offensive line. Running backs coach Chris Barclay is back, too.
From 2012 to 2014, the Herd had the best improvement in rushing yards per carry in major college football, going from a 4.23-yard average in 2012 to 5.05 in 2013 and soaring to 6.81 last season, when Johnson gained 1,767 yards in his first season in the backfield.
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg's crew showed a 2.58-yard improvement over that two year span. The only other FBS programs with a hike of more than 2 yards per rush were Tulane (2.47) and NC State (2.16).
The Herd also is one of only four teams to improve its ground game four years running, with Oklahoma, New Mexico and Rutgers.
Frosh catchers: With a year under its belt, a promising Herd pass-catching unit -- dominated by sophomores -- should add to its 2014 accolades.
In Marshall's conference USA title season, freshman receivers Deon-Tay McManus, Angelo Jean-Louis, Hyleck Foster and tight end Ryan Yurachek combined for 82 receptions, 1,317 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The 17 scores tied CFP runner-up Oregon for the most nationally by freshmen, and the total yardage ranked No. 5 (Oregon tops at 1,881). Marshall's freshman yards-per-catch average was 16.04. among FBS teams with at least 50 freshman catches, only Baylor (79 catches, 16.34-ypc) and Oregon State (58 catches, 16.17-ypc) topped the Herd's 16.04.
Making points: Veteran Marshall coordinator Legg's attack goes into 2015 defending a title as the nation's most efficient scoring offense.
In 2014, the nationally ranked Herd ran 1,032 plays in 14 games (13-1) and scored 638 points. The Marshall plays-per-point average of 1.62 edged Georgia (1.63), Ohio State (1.63) and Oregon (1.64) for the top spot.
In total: Among the nation's premier offenses in 2014, the Herd had the most balance -- 4,022 pass yards and 3,807 by the rush. Marshall ranked second in total offense per game (559.2 yards) and first in yards per play (7.6).
The Herd alone had more than 3,800 yards pass or run. Marshall ranked No. 8 in rushing and 18 in passing. Only CFP runner-up Oregon joined Marshall as a top 25 team in both categories. The Ducks were No. 10 in passing and no. 22 on the ground.
Heating up: Marshall's 20.2-point improvement in scoring defense (from 2012 to 2013) topped the nation after Coach Doc Holliday hired veteran coordinator Chuck Heater in February 2013. That number continued to drop in 2014, too.
Despite allowing 67 points in its only loss, to Western Kentucky, Heater's bunch improved the scoring defense from 22.9 to 21.0 points per game. The two-year improvement of 22.1 points (from 43.1 ppg in 2012) led major college football by a wide margin, with Houston No. 2 at a 15.4-point, two-year improvement. Duke was next at 14.2.
Only 10 programs improved their scoring defenses by at least 10 points per game over the 2012-14 span.
Happy returns: Herd kick return man Deandre Reaves has set the school record for single-season return yards in each of the last two years -- 924 in 2013 and 931 last season. The redshirt senior from Sterling, Va., enters 2015 with a chance -- early -- to claim the Marshall career record, too.
Reaves has 1,855 career kick return yards. The school mark has lasted nearly four decades. Ray Crisp posted 1,966 yards from 1975-78. Reaves needs 112 yards to break that -- and he's averaged 25.0 and 29.1 yards per return in the last two seasons.
Reaves has gotten his kick runback yardage in the last two seasons. He didn't have a kick return as a freshman in 2012.
Tyler, too: Herd senior Tyler Williams impressed quickly upon his 2012 arrival in the program, winning the punting job as a true freshman and then setting the school single-season record with a 45.19-yard average. Now, he has a shot at the career average.
The Fort Wayne, Ind., resident enters the 2015 season with a 43.69-yard average over his three seasons. The school record of 43.42 belongs to Pat Velarde (1982-83).
Williams is the fifth four-year starting punter in Marshall annals, following Bob Esbaugh (1971-74), Chris Hanson (1995-98), Curtis Head (1999-2002) and Kase Whitehead (2008-11).
Extra points: After three seasons with Justin Haig as the Herd's principal place-kicker, the battle goes on between Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraj to follow the graduated MVP of last season's Conference USA title game.
Whoever wins the job has a PAT streak to continue. Haig made his final 102 extra points -- last missing Nov. 2, 2013 in a win over Southern Miss (third quarter), and Smith kicked one in last season's victory at FIU.
So, the Herd streak is 103 when Purdue visits Edwards Stadium for the season opener on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
Marshall had a streak of 156 straight when Haig missed in 2013. So, the Herd has converted its last 259-of-260.
Boilers: Purdue's visit to Edwards Stadium, on Sept. 6, will be the first Marshall home game in history against a Big Ten Conference team. It's the return date in a home-and-home contract following the Boilermakers' 51-41 win at Ross-Ade stadium in 2012
The Herd has played five games against Big Ten member teams, going 0-5 on the road, all since a 2000 date at Michigan State. Marshall lost at Ohio State in 2004 and 2010 (Coach Doc Holliday's head coaching debut) and at Wisconsin in 2008.
Other current Big Ten members who were not in that conference when facing the Herd are Maryland and Penn State. Maryland fell in the 2013 Military Bowl to Marshall -- the Terps' last game as an ACC member before joining the Big Ten -- and PSU won at home over the Herd in 1929 and '30. The Nittany Lions didn't join the Big Ten until six decades later.
Major moments: Purdue's visit to "The Joan" will be the seventh for a "power conference" team to Huntington since the Herd returned to major college football in 1997 from Division I-AA success.
The Boilers' visit will be in the first in the College Football Playoff era. The first six were by top-six conference teams from the ACC, Big East and Big 12 in the BCS years (1998-2013).
Marshall is 1-5 in those games, winning the first over Temple (Big East) -- 34-0, in 1999. Since then, the Herd fell to Kansas State (Big 12) in 2005; West Virginia (Big East) in 2007 and 2010; Cincinnati (Big East) in 2008 and Virginia Tech (ACC) in 2011.
On future schedules, the Herd has Power 5 visits to Edwards Stadium by three ACC foes -- Louisville in 2016, NC State in '18 and Pitt in 2020.
Sundays: The 2015 season opener is the Herd's first Sunday football game since a 34-13 storm-shortened loss at West Virginia, on Sept. 4, 2011. Marshall's last Sunday home game was four seasons earlier -- Oct. 21, 2007, a 33-24 Conference USA loss to Southern Miss in an ESPN telecast game.
As for a home season opener on a Sunday ... you need the way-back machine to the World War II years.
Marshall last played a season-opening game at home on a Sunday on Sept. 27, 1942 at Fairfield Stadium ... a 0-0 tie with regional rival Morehead State.