HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Duplicate numbers are a necessary evil in college football, and the bane of a statkeeper's existence. In a rapid-fire game setting, errors are inevitable and can lead to comical results.The goof-up in Marshall's opening game against Miami was understandable, but epic. Buried at the bottom of the Thundering Herd defensive category was the notation: No. 11, Devon Smith, one assisted tackle."That was kind of funny when [someone] told me that," said Smith, who has not made a collegiate tackle.That was caught and corrected quickly after the keyboards of deadline-harried newspaper writers fell silent and life slowed down for everyone. The tackle was correctly credited to the other No. 11 on the Herd roster, James Rouse.A similar mixup happened with the No. 1s on the Herd, receiver Tommy Shuler and safety A.J. Leggett. But you could see Leggett catching a pass and Shuler defending one, at least in theory.Smith and Rouse? You're talking Tom and Jerry, David and Goliath, Mutt and Jeff and all those other metaphors. Throw in Speedy Gonzalez and Slowpoke Rodriguez for good measure.Rouse is a senior defensive tackle. At 6-foot-5, 268 pounds, he is considered one of the strongest on the Marshall team. He could bench-press "Moo Moo" Smith, a 5-7, 145-pound senior wide receiver, as many times as he wants before getting bored.That's if Rouse could catch Smith. If Smith spotted Rouse 20 yards in a 40-yard dash, he probably catches him - and Rouse is not slow for his position.One of three Penn State transfers on the Herd, Smith could be the fastest human to don a Marshall uniform since Randy Moss. If you doubt that, you simply haven't seen the man go.
Gardner-Webb coach Carroll McCray, who has to figure out how to foil Smith this Saturday, has seen him on video. McCray almost couldn't believe his eyes when watching Smith and some of his speedy teammates."There were some things on film, it kind of looked like it was fast-motion, but I realize it was in normal play," McCray said.For their great differences, Smith and Rouse have several things in common. For starters, both changed their numbers to 11 before preseason camp, Smith from No. 33 and Rouse from No. 92.More important, both took the field in the Herd's 52-14 whipping of Miami (Ohio) after long absences, and made an immediate impact. Rouse played for the first time in 231/2 months after overcoming back problems and a torn Achilles tendon.When Smith transferred from bowl-exiled Penn State last year, he redshirted to heal a foot injury, among other reasons.
Both found the experience of their returns to the gridiron extra exhilarating. Rouse's next act in a game comes before Saturday's game against Gardner-Webb, when he witnesses the coin toss as one of the Herd's four captains.
Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium."I was really nervous at first, before the game," Rouse said. "I got settled in after a couple of drives and it felt good to be out there."Smith echoed that theme: "Man, it was a blessing to get back out on that field. That's all it is, a blessing to get back out there and show these people what I've got."By all accounts, Rouse's contribution to the Herd's defensive domination of the RedHawks went well beyond his one, er, two tackles, one which resulted in a 1-yard loss. Several times he helped push the Miami line back, opening lanes for linebackers such as Jermaine Holmes to blow through and smother ball carriers.Smith's 70 yards on seven punt returns and 75 yards on three catches were more noticeable, especially his 54-yard TD reception of a Rakeem Cato bomb. Playing outside at the "X" position, Smith zoomed by Miami's best cover corner, Dayonne Nunley.Cato's pass didn't lack for altitude or distance. Accordingly, Smith didn't lack for confidence.
"He can throw anything, I'm going to go get it," Smith said, mimicking a Moss mantra.If the Miami game is an indication, Smith and Rouse are going to have big senior seasons, statkeepers are going to have to pay extra attention. The Marshall crew has five more games to get that down; statkeepers in other stadiums have a challenge.One thing to remember: Smith is not eager to make his first college tackle, for it probably means an interception or a fumbled punt is involved.Rouse would make a statistical trade, though."That's what my Dad said, they kept on mixing up the names," he said, then joked: "Hopefully, I got a couple catches."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.