HUNTINGTON - With the game suddenly on the line again last weekend at Purdue, Marshall placed a sizable stack of chips on untested receiver Craig Wilkins.The Thundering Herd was two scores down, 51-35, with the clock ticking under the four-minute mark. On second-and-3 from the Purdue 15-yard line, Rakeem Cato surveyed his options and found Wilkins open toward the deep right corner of the end zone.The 6-foot-1, 176-pound sophomore from Hialeah, Fla., had exactly one career catch to that point - late in the third quarter of the same game, for 9 yards. Much like a 9-year-old at Christmas, Wilkins had a little trouble unwrapping this gift.He turned himself around and fell backward a bit, yet reached up and hauled the ball in for his first career touchdown.
"It was a 'sluggo' route [slant and go], a double-move route," Wilkins explained. "It was my first touchdown so I told myself I had to catch it, to get on the charts."Which he did. He joined Tommy Shuler, Demetrius Evans and Kevin Grooms as those with their first career touchdown reception, and became the 14th Herd player to carry the ball over the goal line this year, in any fashion.More important, as Marshall prepares to play Tulsa at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Wilkins rejoined an already deep wide receiver rotation. In fact, MU's game notes list him as the second man at the "Y" position, behind Antavious Wilson and ahead of Jazz King.Wilkins appeared in four games last year as a true freshman, and missed the first three games this year with a high ankle sprain. When Wilson missed most of the second half, the door opened for Wilkins to get quality snaps.That has been a theme of the Herd receiving corps. Evans and Davonte Allen were seen quite a bit in place of Aaron Dobson at "X," with a few important catches. For example, Evans caught a 19-yard pass to convert a third-and-10 on the drive in which Wilkins scored.Wilkins' TD was a long time coming, for all concerned."Craig has a lot of ability, got a lot of upside. We see his future as being the sky is the limit," Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. "He's a kid that's not afraid to work. His thing is he's had a lot of setbacks from injuries that have limited his play at times."Otherwise, that would not have been his first touchdown in a game. That would have come a long time ago."The confidence in a wide range of pass-catchers is what coach Doc Holliday and Legg had in mind when they came to Marshall for the 2010 season. That's part of what has allowed the Herd to snap the ball 90-plus times a game this season.It isn't all about filling in for injuries."We need all of them, even if [Wilson's] not sitting down," Legg said. "When you're attempting to run as many snaps as we've been running, one guy can't play the whole game, especially at a skill position and especially at a wide receiver position, because every play is a dash. Sometimes it's a 10-yard dash, sometimes it's a 20-yard dash, sometimes it's a 40-yard dash. The whole game's a sprint.
"You can't expect any skill kids to go out there and sprint full-speed, and fatigue not set in, 98 times, which is how many times we snapped the ball last Saturday."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.