BOGACZYK: Football Facts and Figures to Fill a Herd Summer
The Word on the Herd-July 21, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It’s going to be here sooner than you think … Marshall opens its preseason football camp on Friday, Aug. 7.
Coach Doc Holliday and two of his top players – running back Devon Johnson and defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel – traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., today for the annual Conference USA Football Kickoff, where they meet with a good portion of the media covering C-USA.
It’s a return to where the Herd won the first Boca Raton Bowl last December, too.
So, here’s a preseason look at some facts and figures to get Herd followers primed for the 2015 season:
What’s up? … Doc
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday enters his sixth season on the Herd sideline, and the only current Conference USA head coach who was in the Texas-based league when Holliday arrived is Rice’s David Bailiff.
Holliday, named at Marshall in December 2009, was part of a 23-man FBS coaching-hire class prior to the 2010 season. Of those 23 coaches, only six remain on the job at the schools hiring them in 2010 – Holliday, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Ruffin McNeill at East Carolina, Virginia’s Mike London and Todd Berry of Louisiana-Monroe.
Holliday is 40-25 (.615) in five seasons. The only coaches in his “hiring class” with better records are Fisher (58-11, .841) and Kelly (45-20, .692).
Holliday received a six-year contract extension this past spring, through June 2021, bumping his base and supplemental salary to $755,500.
‘We play for championships’
An oft-heard remark by Marshall Coach Doc Holliday has once again rung true, as Marshall won its first Conference USA football title last December -- a 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech – after falling in the title game at Rice a year earlier.
The Herd’s C-USA title was its 14th conference championship in five leagues.
Marshall won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles in 1925, ’28 and ’31, then took the Buckeye Conference crown in 1937. Marshall won Southern Conference championships in 1988, ’92, ’94 and ’96, then added five Mid-American Conference titles from 1997-2000 and 2002.
The Herd will have a new starting quarterback in 2015, but the guts of a potent ground game return in running back Devon Johnson 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 span. The only other FBS programs with a hike of more than 2 yards per rush were Tulane (2.47) and North Carolina State (2.16).
The Herd also is one of only four teams to improve its ground game four years in a row, with Oklahoma, New Mexico and Rutgers.
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 wide 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 College Football Playoff finalist Oregon for the most nationally by freshmen, and the total yardage ranked No. 5 (Oregon was 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.
Veteran Marshall offensive coordinator Bill 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 – among 128 FBS teams -- had more than 3,800 yards pass and run. Marshall ranked No. 8 in rushing and No. 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.
A ‘Legg’ up
Whether it’s production, efficiency or success, the Marshall offense has had it in recent seasons. According to calculations by CoachingSearch.com, Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg has been the top third down play-caller in major college football over the past three seasons.
From 2012-14, the Herd converted 316-of-601 third-down opportunities. That’s a 52.5 percent success rate. The only other FBS program (and play-calling coach) over 50 percent in the past three seasons is Coach Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech (278-of-541, 51.3 percent).
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.
Near the top
With back-to-back season of double-digit victories – 10-4 and 13-1 – Marshall enters 2015 owning one of the best FBS records in that two-season span. Only five FBS teams have a better combined 2013-14 record than Marshall’s 23-5.
Florida State (27-1), Ohio State (26-3), Michigan State (24-3), Oregon (24-4) and Alabama (23-4) are the top five. Marshall’s 23-5 shares the next spot with Missouri and Northern Illinois, which the Herd downed last December in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.
Bowling for wins
With a 9-3 all-time record in bowls, Marshall ranks at the top of major college teams in postseason percentage success (.750), among schools that have played in at least 10 bowl games. Utah is next at 14-5 (.737), followed by Miami (Ohio) at 7-3 (.700).
Marshall has won nine of its last 10 bowl appearances, including four in a row, three of those under Coach Doc Holliday. The Herd’s current four-game postseason win streak also shares the FBS lead with Michigan State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Herd senior Tyler Williams impressed quickly upon his 2012 arrival in the program, winning the punting job as a true freshman walk-on and then setting the school single-season record with a 45.19-yard average. Now, he has a shot at the career average record.
The Fort Wayne, Ind., resident enters the 2015 season with a 43.7-yard average over his three seasons. The school record of 43.4 belongs to Pat Velarde (1982-83). And only 51 of Williams’ 141 career punts have been returned, an average of 1.28 per game.
In three seasons, Williams has had 38 punts of 50 or more yards, including nine of 60-plus. He has placed 41 inside the 20, with only 14 touchbacks. His stellar performance in the 2013 Military Bowl was a key to the Herd’s victory over Maryland, as Williams pinned the Terps at their own 1, 5, 1 and 8 among his seven kicks. His career-long boot was a 66-yarder at Rice in 2012.
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).
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.
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.
Marshall will play the 2015 season with at least nine players already owning their MU undergraduate degrees. Another six players on the roster are on target to become summer (August) graduates as well.
The Herd had five 2015 seniors (athletic eligibility) graduate last December – wide receiver Davonte Allen, linebacker D.J. Hunter, safety Taj Letman and tight end Joe Woodrum in management, and offensive guard Sebastian Johansson in sports management/marketing.
Marshall’s roster gained four more graduates this May – cornerback Keith Baxter (health science), defensive end Joe Massaquoi (criminal justice), offensive tackle Clint Van Horn (political science) and punter Tyler Williams (marketing).
The Herd returns 19 players who have made at least one career start on offense or defense, for a total of 253 starts (100 offense, 153 defense).
It’s a list that’s led by senior strong side linebacker D.J. Hunter, who enters the 2015 season with 28 career starts. Next is boundary safety Taj Letman, another senior, with 27 starts. Left guard Sebastian “Swede” Johansson leads the offense career starts list with 25.
On special teams, punter Tyler Williams and long snapper Matt Cincotta have been the regulars since their first game as true freshmen in 2011, and have 40 “starts” apiece.
Here’s a look at Marshall’s career starts entering the 2015 season:
Running back – Devon Johnson (12), Remi Watson (5).
Line – G Sebastian Johansson (25), T Clint Van Horn (22), C Michael Selby, 14, all at right guard).
Receiver – Davonte Allen 14, Angelo Jean-Louis (8).
Line – NG Jarquez Samuel (18), T Steve Dillon (2), E Armonze Daniel (2), E Gary Thompson (1).
Linebacker – D.J. Hunter (28), Evan McKelvey (12), Stefan Houston (2).
Backs – S Taj Letman (27), CB Corey Tindal (26), CB Keith Baxter (13), S A.J. Leggett (11), S tiquan Lang (11).
P Tyler Williams (40), LS Matt Cincotta (40), H Tyler Williams (14).
It’s easy to see why Herd Coach Doc Holliday talks about ball security so often. His five previous Marshall teams have provided a strong indicator of why turnover margin is so important.
Holliday’s five Herd teams have a combined 40-25 record. When Marshall has an edge in turnover margin, it is 22-4. When the turnover number is equal, Marshall is 10-4. But when the opponent is more sure-handed, the Herd is 8-17.
Of Marshall’s 65 games under Holliday, the Herd has played 33 while producing zero or one turnover.
The 2015 Herd has three players on six of the preseason watch lists for major national awards, led by running back Devon Johnson. A look at the Herd on those watch lists:
Walter Camp Award – RB Devon Johnson
Maxwell Award – RB Devon Johnson
Doak walker Award – RB Devon Johnson
Rimington Trophy – C Michael Selby
Outland Trophy – OT Clint Van Horn
Rotary Lombardi Award – LB D.J. Hunter, OT Clint Van Horn
Marshall placed a league-best six players on the 2015 All-Conference USA Preseason Football Team announced July 14. The 34-player team was selected by the league’s 13 football coaches.
The six selections for Coach Doc Holliday’s team included running back Devon Johnson and right tackle Clint Van Horn on offense, nose tackle Jarquez Samuel and strongside linebacker D.J. Hunter on defense, and punter Tyler Williams and long snapper Matt Cincotta on special teams. All six are 2015 seniors.
Johnson, Van Horn, Williams and Cincotta were among the Herd’s league-record 10 All-C-USA first team selections for the 2014 season last December.
Following the Herd’s six selections were five for FIU and four each for Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech.
Men of Steele
Marshall produced a Conference USA-record 10 all-conference first team selection in 2014, and if magazine publisher Phil Steele’s 2015 preseason forecast is any barometer, the Herd could be stacking up more honors after this season.
Steele named Herd senior Deandre Reaves to his All-America third team at kick returner. Joining Reaves on Steele’s All-C-USA first team are running back Devon Johnson, offensive tackle Clint Van Horn, linebacker D.J. Hunter, safety Taj Letman and punter Tyler Williams.
Second team picks by Steele were offensive guard Sebastian Johansson and cornerback Corey Tindal, with center Michael Selby, wide receiver Deon-Tay McManus, defensive end Gary Thompson and linebacker Evan McKelvey on the third team. Safety A.J. Leggett and receiver Angelo Jean-Louis were on the fourth team.
The 14 overall selections and six first team picks led all C-USA schools.
The Sporting News’ 2015 preseason magazine anointed the Herd in several special categories among Conference USA teams, including Doc Holliday as the best recruiting coach and Joan C. Edwards Stadium as the best C-USA football game venue.
Herd players singled out were senior Davonte Allen as the fastest wide receiver, running back Devon Johnson as having the best instincts and wide receiver Raylen Elzy as a top impact freshman.
Lindy’s preseason guide named Van Horn as one of the league’s top 10 players and the best pass blocker in C-USA. Johnson was picked as the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year and wideout Angelo Jean-Louis was listed as the most dangerous deep threat.
Purdue’s visit to Edwards Stadium, on Sept. 6 (3 p.m., FS1), 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.
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 championship 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, North Carolina State in ’18 and Pitt in 2020. Marshall also has future non-conference home-and-home series with Navy and East Carolina of the AAC and Appalachian State of the Sun Belt.
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 … the visit by Purdue is a first in Herd history.