By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
With each passing week, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday hopes Kevin Grooms is getting closer to the player he was as a freshman.
Holliday also has been thrilled with the play of senior Essray Taliaferro, who has two 100-yard games this season.
Together, Grooms and Taliaferro give the Thundering Herd one of the top running attacks in Conference USA.
The duo’s running was a highlight in a heartbreaking 51-49 loss at Middle Tennessee State last Thursday. Taliaferro, who has started every game this year for the Herd (4-3, 2-1 C-USA), ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns against the Blue Raiders.
Grooms, meanwhile, rushed for 50 yards and a pair of scores as Marshall went for 213 as a team.
Ironically, it was because of Grooms’ injury that Taliaferro got his opportunity. Grooms missed most of preseason practice with an injured ankle, and Taliaferro took advantage of the increased work to earn his starting spot.
“He’s made the decision to work really hard, to live right, make good decisions and be a good player,” Holliday said. “It’s helped him, especially with the way he has handled himself off the field. He’s done a great job with that.”
On the year, Taliaferro leads the Herd with 502 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries.
Holliday said Taliaferro, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound Washington, D.C., native, is the best blocking back for Marshall, which will host Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) at noon Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
“He’s done a terrific job with the protection of (quarterback Rakeem) Cato and that’s one of the reasons that he is playing more than the rest of them,” Holliday said. “A year ago, he wasn’t to where he is now, but he has worked hard to get there. He’s done a great job with the younger guys on the team and he’s been a captain for us multiple times. He’s become a really good player for us.”
As for Grooms, Holliday believes the chance is there for him to get back to the form he showed last season when he was the C-USA Freshman of the Year.
“I talked to Grooms (Monday) night on my way home and one thing I told him was that probably the best game he played last year was against Southern Miss,” Holliday said, referring to a 59-24 Herd win in which Grooms ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns. “Of course, he played very well against Rice as well (103 yards, three touchdowns in a 54-51 double-overtime win). To me, Grooms is still not Grooms with the explosiveness and what he can do. He is getting closer.
“I mentioned to him (Monday) night that it’s about time that he starts looking like Grooms. Hopefully this will be a great week for that to happen. He’s still not to where he was a year ago, but hopefully this week he will be closer.”
— E-mail: gfauber