HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Another week, another mobile quarterback for Marshall's defense to ponder.The string has been somewhat impressive: Ohio's Tyler Tettleton, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Texas-San Antonio's Eric Soza and, this week, Jaquez Johnson of Florida Atlantic.Johnson's 404-total-yard performance last week at Alabama-Birmingham caught the attention of those who vote on Conference USA awards, as he was named the league's offensive player of the week.The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior from Starkville, Miss., completed 23 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown in the Owls' 37-23 win. His 54-yard run late in the game set up his second touchdown pass, putting the game out of reach.
That performance has the full attention of Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday, whose defense handcuffed Soza last week. The Herd faces the Owls at 5 p.m. Saturday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, with Fox College Sports Atlantic televising."He's starting to look like he's coming into his own," Holliday said. "He's had over 60 carries in his last four games. So he can not only throw it, but he's part of their running game and he throws it plenty well enough to beat you, if you're not prepared."Getting Johnson down won't be easy, but Holliday reports that the Herd's tackling remains solid. He said his team had six missed tackles, easily fulfilling the single-digit standard."They're tacking extremely well," Holliday said. "That's four out of the five games we're in single-digit missed tackles. The only game we weren't was Gardner-Webb [with liberal substitution]."nn
Down in Boca Raton, the Owls will be down a cornerback, as Keith Reaser tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season. Reaser started 33 games in his career and had 26 tackles and four pass-breakups this season.
Coach Carl Pelini said Tuesday that tests had not yet been done on the knee, but the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported that FAU officials revealed the severity of the injury. The day before, Pelini addressed the loss of his fifth-year senior from Miami."I've said it from the start of the year," Pelini said. "I think Keith is one of the better defensive backs, not only in this conference but in this country, probably. Keith is a leader on this team; people respect him."Sophomore Sharrod Neasman is listed as Reaser's replacement in FAU's game notes, and others such as Cre'von LeBlanc, Reggie Brown and Josh Orsino will play a part in picking up the slack. The Owls often use nickel and dime formations, of which you can expect a healthy dose against the Herd.nn
Leading off the press conference, Holliday announced two new game captains for the week, linebacker Neville Hewitt and defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers. Those are the seventh and eighth defensive players to serve in that capacity.
The offensive representatives are long-term repeat selections, quarterback Rakeem Cato and center Chris Jasperse.nn
Holliday said running back Remi Watson probably will play. Between injury and simply falling to the No. 4 back, Watson has played just two games, gaining 24 yards on eight carries.
The coach is holding out hope that Jeremiah Taylor may return this season. "I think that's down the road. I don't know that," Holliday said. "J.T. has a chance. Jordan [Jeffries] has no chance."Holliday announced that Jeffries, the offensive tackle, is retiring for health reasons. (See story, Page 1B.)nn
This being the first of two trips to south Florida, Holliday and his staff have the added challenge of managing potential distractions. With 34 Floridians - half or more from the talent-loaded three-county area from West Palm Beach to Miami - there will be lots of friends and family excited to see them come home.On the other hand, the Herd is on a business trip. If players don't handle it that way, they'll lose in front of their friends and family.Holliday is setting aside a two-hour time window Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m., for family visits at the team hotel. After that, it's all about football and the team."I can't take those kids down to Florida [and they] can't see their families. What are we talking about?" Holliday said. "A lot of them haven't seen Mom and Dad for a long time. We've got a few guys, Mom and Dad have never seen them play in a college setting.
"We'll do it the right way, but our kids understand it's a business trip, and we're going down there to try to find a way to win the game." The doling out of the players' four complimentary tickets is always an interesting dynamic - the south Floridians often trade their tickets to other road games to other players for the games back home.There are some strict no-nos, according to the NCAA by-laws and interpretations thereof."I got warned by our compliance guy to keep my tickets to myself," Holliday said.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.