Marshall senior Gator Hoskins has found the end zone on 12 of his 34 receptions this season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If you blinked before Marshall's final home game of 2012, you might have missed the Senior Day ceremony.That class of outgoing seniors numbered eight; the group that will accept pregame ovations Friday morning will be 16 strong.At that 2012 Senior Day, the Thundering Herd fought to beat Houston to improve to 5-6 and keep its bowl hopes alive. This Friday at noon, the Herd takes on East Carolina in a battle for the East Division championship in Conference USA.Coincidence? Not really.
"Anytime you talk about having a good football team, normally your seniors are playing their best football," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "You look across that board and you see [defensive tackle] Brandon Sparrow right now, playing the best football since he's been there. You see Monterius Lovett at corner, had a tremendous year."[Left tackle] Garrett Scott's played extremely well. [Alex] Schooler's playing his best football at offensive guard. Moo Moo [Devon Smith], the transfer [from Penn State], he's played very well for us. I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out there - [Alex] Bazzie, Gator [Hoskins], [Essray] Taliaferro."You go right down the list. That's a group of seniors, without doubt, are playing the best football of their career. When you're a successful football team, that happens, because number one, because they become great leaders, take ownership of the team. When your seniors play their best ball, normally you're team's good."
And so it is with Marshall (8-3, 6-1), which has eight wins for the first time since 2003, and will go for No. 9 at noon Friday at Joan C. Edward Stadium. Tied with the Herd in the division, ECU comes to Huntington 9-2 overall.Marshall hasn't been 6-1 in the league, or any league, since 2002.Of the seniors who have had big seasons, Hoskins and Taliaferro are the two most recognizable.Hoskins has been the most decorated. He was the only player outside the "Power Five" conferences to be named a Mackey Award semifinalist (he was not one of the three finalists released Monday).
After his three-touchdown night at Florida International, Hoskins has scored 12 touchdowns out of 34 receptions, more than one in three. Some of his catches - the fourth-down TD pass at Florida Atlantic comes to mind - have been game-changers.Taliaferro, who came to MU as a walk-on, stands to become a 1,000-yard rusher with the Herd playing 13 or 14 games. He is not as speedy as Steward Butler or Kevin Grooms, but his pass-protection skills and general effort are superior.Other seniors who are having big years:Smith: He has shared more "X" receiver snaps, but he remains the team's top deep threat and punt returner. He leads the team with 18.9 yards per catch with three TDs, and his 77-yard TD punt return at Florida Atlantic has altered punt tactics ever since.Scott, Schooler: Bedrocks of the offensive line, Scott's transition from right tackle to left allowed Clint Van Horn to move into the starting lineup.Sparrow, Bazzie: The line has been instrumental to the defensive turnaround, and both have played a large role. They have combined for 12.5 tackles for loss, and Bazzie is the team's No. 4 tackler overall.Lovett: His improvement, combined with the return of junior Darryl Roberts, has lifted the Herd's pass defense efficiency rating from 10th in C-USA to second.
A final note: Defensive tackle James Rouse is a redshirt senior, but don't expect him to come out for Senior Day applause. With his injury history, he is considered a lock for a sixth-year waiver.
"He needs something really good to happen for him, because he sure deserves it," Holliday said. "He'll get another year, I mean there's not going to be a question whether he gets another year or not. He'll have one."He's got to make that decision. On our part, I hope he comes back. I think he will, because he's such a great kid and a tremendous asset to our program."Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.