By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
A four-tackle night might seem a bit pedestrian to some, but Billy Mitchell’s performance was about more than numbers.
“Just to be out there with my teammates again was amazing,” the linebacker at Marshall said. “It was an incredible feeling.”
Mitchell was making his first appearance of the season after suffering a concussion during spring drills and another in the preseason. He started and made a significant impact in the Thundering Herd’s 59-24 win at Southern Miss.
The Navarre, Fla., native took seriously his role as quarterback of the defense.
“I thought I played very well,” Mitchell said. “I was helping get guys in the places where they needed to be.”
The Herd defense limited the winless Golden Eagles to 331 yards, a season-low. They also had eight tackles for loss, including three sacks, and forced three turnovers.
Mitchell had a hand — literally — in one of the turnovers, and it came at a crucial time.
Marshall was pulling away late in the third quarter, going ahead 45-17 on an 11-yard touchdown run by Kevin Grooms. Southern Miss, trying to stay in the game, took the ball to Marshall’s 5-yard line on the next series.
Tyre Bracken carried to the 1, but Mitchell stripped the ball away. Armonze Daniel recovered in the end zone for the Herd, ending any hopes of a Golden Eagle comeback.
“They were running an up-tempo offense and had an inside zone,” Mitchell explained. “I read it and I wrapped up the running back. I pulled the ball out of his arm and Armonze fell on it. It was an important play for us.
“They were looking to score and you could feel the air come out of the stadium.”
Mitchell’s effort was part of the defense’s best performance of the season.
“I thought the defense was amazing,” he said. “The defensive line was outstanding, the linebackers filled the holes and the corners and safeties were making plays wherever they were needed.”
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound former tight end is looking forward to having no limitations the rest of the season.
“I’m full go,” Mitchell said. “They took it easy on me during the bye week, but I am ready to go.”
“Football is important to him,” coach Doc Holliday said before the game. “Billy is one guy who has played a lot for us. To have him back out there, I think is going to help us.”
Mitchell will take the field again when the Herd (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) hosts Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) in a big conference game Saturday. He says nothing the Knights do on offense will take his team by surprise.
“They are very tough and physical,” Mitchell said. “They run 21-personnel. They are going to try to run the football. There are no secrets to that offense.”