By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall coach Doc Holliday has 17 seniors from whom to choose his team captains each week. But among the four chosen for Saturday’s Battle for the Bell game at Ohio (8 p.m., ESPNews) is one freshman.
Defensive back Corey Tindal will be one of two defensive captains for the Thundering Herd, along with senior tackle James Rouse. The offensive captains are junior receiver Tommy Shuler and senior center Chris Jasperse.
Tindal, a 5-foot-9, 173-pound redshirt freshman, is listed as the Herd’s starter at nickel back. He came into the year with high expectations and has not disappointed. In two games for unbeaten Marshall, the Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., native is tied for third on the team with nine tackles, one for loss, and has recovered a fumble.
Holliday names his captains at the start of his weekly press conference each Tuesday and bases his decision on performance and leadership exhibited through the preseason and throughout game week. That makes the selection of Tindal a surprise, because he is an underclassman, but Holliday says the shoe fits.
“I’ve said all along that you don’t have to be a senior to lead,” Holliday said. “Maybe the best leader I’ve ever been associated with was Philip Rivers at N.C. State (where Holliday was an assistant) when he was a freshman.
“Corey Tindal has been no different. From the time he stepped out on the field, he’s been a tremendous leader, and it helps when you’re a tremendous player. Those things kind of go hand in hand. It’s great to see him develop the way that he has, and I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
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Marshall’s offense was one of the statistically best in the nation last year, with its passing game leading the way. Quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for more than 4,000 yards, also among the nation’s best.
Through two games this year, the running game has taken more of a role in Huntington. The Herd is averaging 264.0 yards per game on the ground, 26th in the country.
Redshirt sophomore Steward Butler has gone over 100 yards in both games and is second in Conference USA at 129.0 yards per contest.
Marshall is 15th in the country at 550.0 yards of total offense.
Being first doesn’t always mean being best.
“We like to be able to continue to run a balanced offense,” said Holliday, whose team averages 286.0 passing yards. “It all depends on what they give us defensively. I’ve said since day one that we may not be better on the stat sheet, but we have a better offense. That’s kind of where we are at this point, and we’d like to continue that trend.”
Marshall’s stable of running backs — in addition to Butler, Essray Taliaferro started the first two games and Remi Watson made his season debut last Saturday against Gardner-Webb — should grow by one against Ohio (1-1).
Redshirt-sophomore Kevin Grooms will likely play against the Bobcats. He missed the first two games, and most of the preseason, with an injury. All he did last year is rush for 737 yards and eight touchdowns in earning league Freshman of the Year honors.
“He should be fine,” Holliday said. “He probably could’ve played last week with Steward Butler and those other guys, but he should be good to go (Saturday).”
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A lot has been said about the depth of the offensive line, which helps as the Herd rotates bodies up front in the hurry-up offense.
But there is also depth in the defensive secondary, which has shown much improvement, thus far. Marshall has intercepted four passes already this season.
“We’ve been able to get sacks, hurries and pressure on the quarterback, which has helped the secondary, as well,” Holliday said. “In the secondary, we have been rolling in three or four corners in there and a couple nickels. We’re rolling three safeties.
“What we’re trying to do is develop (true freshman) Tiquan Lang and a couple of those young safeties like Michael Johnson (another true freshman). They’re not ready yet, but at some point three or four games down the road, they can get in there and make something happen. We’ve rolled a lot of players in there, and hopefully that will help us down the road later in the season.”
— E-mail: gfauber