We are officially at the halfway point of the 2017 football season for Marshall University and the Thundering Herd has done a great job so far of helping fans forget about a dismal 2016 season.
Marshall finished the 2016 season at 3-9 overall and many fans consider it the worst season the Herd has had since rejoining the FBS in 1997. And many were skeptical of whether the Herd could turn things around this season, but so far, so good.
With what head coach Doc Holliday called the toughest offseason his team has had since becoming head coach of Marshall in December of 2009, the Herd has flipped the script so far this season. Marshall has gotten off to a 5-1 start through the first half of the season including having won its last four games in a row.
Improvement has been made in many facets of the game and the Herd hopes to carry that improvement into a C-USA East Division Championship for the third time in the last five seasons. The Herd even received votes in the AP and Coaches Poll over the weekend and is currently ranked 36th in the Coaches Poll and tied for 37th in the AP Poll.
Marshall’s season opener came at home against former MAC foe and rival Miami (OH). The Herd and the RedHawks had an entertaining game that featured two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Marshall’s Keion Davis as well as a pick-six for the Herd’s defense and once the dust cleared, Marshall walked away with a hard-fought 31-26 win.
Week 2 saw the level of difficulty increase dramatically when the Herd went on the road to battle the North Carolina State Wolfpack of the ACC. Marshall played now 16th-ranked NC State very tough for three and a half quarters and even held a 20-10 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Wolfpack prevailed with a much closer than it looked 37-20 win.
The Herd returned home for a Week 3 showdown with Kent State and Marshall shutout the Golden Flashes to secure a 21-0 win despite the offense only putting up seven points through the first three-plus quarters.
Marshall headed back out on the road following a bye week to battle the Cincinnati Bearcats of the AAC and the Herd got what many considered a season-changing 38-21 win over the Bearcats for Marshall’s first road win since October 31, 2015.
The Herd followed that up with a Week 5 road win at Charlotte to open up C-USA play and despite the offense’s struggles finishing off drives, Marshall’s defense shut down the 49ers and walked away with a 14-3 win.
A homecoming date with the Old Dominion Monarchs in Week 6 followed and the Herd’s defense continued its dominating ways by holding ODU to only three points in a 35-3 win for Marshall to improve its record to 5-1 and 2-0 in C-USA play at the halfway point of the season.
The Herd has already exceeded its 2016-win total by two games and we’re only halfway through the season, but the final six games of the season will go a long way in determining if Marshall is a true C-USA contender including a Friday night showdown with Middle Tennessee on the road Oct. 20.
Marshall’s opponents through the first six games have a combined win/loss record of only 14-27 so far and the Herd faces five opponents in the next six games that currently have at least a .500 record compared to only one through the first six games.
The Herd has been impressive up to this point, especially defensively where it is tops in C-USA in scoring defense at 15 points-per-game and tied for ninth in the FBS up to this point. Marshall also became the first C-USA team in 22 years to hold its first two conference opponents without a touchdown.
Marshall’s offense, however, has not nearly been as consistent as the defense. The Herd is currently averaging 26.5 points-per-game, good for just seventh in C-USA.
The Herd’s defense has been good enough to overcome the inconsistencies on offense, but the schedule gets more difficult in the second half of the season and the offense will have to get the kinks worked out if Marshall hopes to reach the C-USA Championship game.
But offensive inconsistency aside, Marshall has made a dramatic improvement from 2016 already and Herd fans should feel much better about this program than it did last season.
And who knows, if the second half of the season goes as the first half did, the mantra “We Play For Championships” could make an emphatic return to the proud Marshall football program.