The 2018 season is officially in the books for the Marshall Thundering Herd and despite not reaching the goal of a C-USA Championship, the Herd still put forth a solid season with an even more solid finish.
Marshall returned 18 starters from the 2017 team that finished 8-5 overall with a New Mexico Bowl victory, but the loss of starting quarterback Chase Litton caught everyone by surprise as Litton decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. The Herd replaced Litton with redshirt freshman Isaiah Green and the youngster impressed right out of the gates.
The Herd headed out on the road to battle the Miami (OH) RedHawks in the 2018 season opener and despite opening up a 28-7 lead in the third quarter, Marshall had to hold off a Miami comeback to escape with a 35-28 win in Green’s first career start at quarterback for the Herd.
Week 2 saw Marshall host FCS member Eastern Kentucky and even with a disastrous special teams performance, the Herd defeated the Colonels 32-16. EKU finished the 2018 season at a respectable 7-4 overall. Marshall’s Week 3 road trip at South Carolina was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, but the Herd returned to action the following Saturday at home against the ACC’s North Carolina State Wolfpack.
NC State controlled the game throughout and despite having several opportunities to make the game interesting, Marshall fell to the Wolfpack 37-20 to fall to 2-1 overall on the season heading into C-USA play. The Herd’s first C-USA game of the season came at the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the 2018 edition of the Moonshine Throwdown.
Marshall struggled mightily against the Hilltoppers, but a 98-yard touchdown drive with less than two minutes remaining in the game propelled the Herd to the eventual 20-17 nailbiting win over WKU to improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in C-USA play. A Friday night home game six days later against Middle Tennessee gave the Herd a chance to seize control of C-USA’s East Division, but it would not be so for Marshall.
Green suffered an injury on the game-winning touchdown pass late in the WKU game and was unable to play against the Blue Raiders, which meant junior graduate transfer Alex Thomson would be making his first career start for the Herd. After a solid first half, the wheels fell off for Marshall in the second half and MTSU knocked off the Herd 34-24 in a rather pedestrian first career FBS start for Thomson.
The Herd got back on track the following week at Old Dominion when an impressive fourth quarter and huge rushing output led to a 42-20 win over the Monarchs to improve Marshall to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in C-USA play. The defending C-USA Champions awaited Marshall on homecoming in Huntington when Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls came to town the following week.
Marshall made a big statement against FAU and held superstar running back Devin Singletary to a season-low rushing output of just 39 yards. That strong defensive effort was the catalyst for the Herd’s 31-7 win over the Owls that improved the overall season record to 5-2 and 3-1 in C-USA play. The Herd had a week off to prepare for a road trip at Southern Miss, but that extra preparation time wouldn’t pay off during the game.
A self-destructing performance featuring four turnovers and a questionably-timed quarterback change helped doom Marshall in what would become a 26-24 loss to the Golden Eagles, a crushing loss in terms of the Herd’s C-USA East Division Championship hopes. Marshall returned home the following week to battle the Charlotte 49ers for the plane crash anniversary game, and the Herd put forth an inspired performance.
Charlotte was unable to do much against the stingy Herd defense and Marshall walked away with a 30-13 win in Green’s first start since the WKU game. The final home game of the season came the following week when Marshall hosted UTSA and the Herd’s defense pitched a shutout along with a school-record in rushing yards allowed (-26) to earn a 23-0 win over the Roadrunners to improve to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in C-USA.
The final conference game of the season came on the road at then-East Division-leading FIU and even though the Herd couldn’t make it to the C-USA Championship game, it made sure the Panthers couldn’t make it either and Marshall got the 28-25 victory in a game in which all three phases scored a touchdown for the Herd.
Marshall brought an 8-3 record and 6-2 mark in C-USA play into an impromptu regular season finale on the road at Virginia Tech of the ACC. The Hokies came into this game needing a sixth win to become bowl eligible for the 26th straight season, and since both teams had a game canceled earlier in the season, Marshall agreed to play Virginia Tech and, in turn, the Hokies agreed to a future home-and-home deal with Marshall.
The Herd had a chance for a statement win and an opportunity to end a 25-year bowl streak of an ACC team, but the Hokies played much more inspired football from start to finish and routed Marshall 41-20 to finish at 6-6 overall and earn a bowl bid for the 26th straight season. The loss ended the Herd’s regular season at 8-4 overall and 6-2 in C-USA play.
Despite the sour finish to the regular season, Marshall earned a bid into the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl to face the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, the home field of USF. The Bulls came in looking to right the ship after five straight losses to finish the regular season and the Herd was looking to keep its bowl success intact.
Something had to give, and Marshall made sure to make the most of the opportunity. The Herd led wire-to-wire and knocked off USF 38-20 to win its seventh consecutive bowl game and improve to 6-0 in bowl games under head coach Doc Holliday. It was a rewarding way to end the season, a season that wrapped up at 9-4 overall, the most wins in a season since winning 10 games in 2015.
One could make the argument that if Green doesn’t get injured and leading rusher Tyler King doesn’t miss the final five games of the season with an injury, Marshall could have competed for the C-USA Championship in 2018. But despite ultimately not reaching its goals and expectations, the Herd still managed to win nine games and a bowl game.
The Herd will have plenty of momentum to build on heading into the 2019 season. Several key contributors will be gone next season, but Marshall returns a lot of talent next season at the same time and will be looking to win its first C-USA Championship since 2014.