The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

September 10, 2013

New faces helping lead Marshall’s defensive surge

Last season, Marshall was tied for 73rd in the nation in turnover margin, giving the ball away 20 times in 12 games.

Through two games this year, the Thundering Herd is in the top 10 at plus-5, an average of 2.5 per game.

What has been the biggest difference early on?

“I think we have about 14 different faces out there making those plays,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said matter-of-factly after last Saturday’s 55-0 win over Gardner-Webb. “If you look at the guys (coming up with) those turnovers, most of them weren’t out there playing a year ago.”

A look at the final numbers, particularly the Gardner-Webb game, prove that. In a nightmare for the team’s statistical crew, 34 players were listed on the defensive stat sheet (one was receiver Devon Smith, who was credited with a tackle after a Rakeem Cato interception).

Of those 34, 13 did not play a single down in 2012.

Three of them led the Herd (2-0) in tackles against the Runnin’ Bulldogs: tackle Josh Brown (six tackles, one sack), end Gary Thompson (six tackles, one fumble recovery) and defensive back Corey Tindal (five stops, fumble recovery).

All three are redshirt freshmen.

In all, six true freshmen have played, thus burning their redshirts barring injury.

“There are a lot of new faces out there and the coaches have done a great job of coaching them up,” Holliday said. “When you play extremely hard, good things will happen for you. Those guys played hard out there tonight and that’s good to see.”

Andre Scott, a redshirt freshman who is listed as a receiver but played on defense, also had an interception and returned it 27 yards. Junior end Arnold Blackmon had one sack.

Another redshirt freshman, cornerback A.J. Leggett, made his first career interception against Gardner-Webb. Leggett had to miss all of last season because of shoulder surgery.

“It feels great to be out there with my team,” said Leggett, who was joined by his son, A.J. Jr., in the postgame press conference. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

There is still a veteran influence on the defense. Cornerback Monterius Lovett, a redshirt senior, turned his sixth career interception into a 70-yard touchdown return.

Then there’s James Rouse, a 6-foot-5, 268-pound tackle who maybe feels as if he’s playing his first season. The redshirt senior has missed most of the last two seasons because of back issues and a torn Achilles.

But he’s been just fine this year and has four tackles, including a sack, through the first two games.

“I’m blessed to be out there,” Rouse said. “I don’t take anything for granted. You don’t really get to know how good the college atmosphere is until you have it.”

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Marshall’s game at Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 21, in Blacksburg, Va., will kick off at noon, according to Marshall’s official website, www.herdzone.com.

The game will be broadcast but a network has yet to be determined.

— E-mail: gfauber@

register-herald.com

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