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Young Marshall players come of age in season-opening win

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Marshall running back Trey Rodriguez (5) was one of many newcomers who made a significant impact in the Thundering Herd’s win over Miami (Ohio).

HUNTINGTON — The red stripe vs. green stripe feature on Marshall’s practice helmets was reemphasized this week, with a small sea of red hitting the trash bins at the Shewey Athletic Building.

Veterans who have “done something,” as interpreted by the Thundering Herd coaching staff, sport a green stripe down the center of their helmets. The others, usually youngsters, sport a red stripe until they “do something,” at which time it is peeled off.

In a nod to young players who started to come of age in the Herd’s victory over Miami (Ohio), more than a dozen red stripes came off.

“You guys, when you’ve all be up here [at practice], you’ve seen the red stripes on people’s helmets,” said MU coach Doc Holliday. “They’re all guys who have never contributed. Fifteen of those guys got it taken off on Saturday.”

When you go up and down the list of participants in the Herd’s 31-26 victory, half or more of them are either freshmen, new to the program, or first-time starters.

Holliday went through some of the list Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

“How about [Marquis] Couch goes from a red stripe to being a captain, playing a tremendous game. [Davon] Durant, who made a key block [on an interception return] had a red stripe on, and I can go on and on … Marcel Williams, [Trey] Rodriguez.

“There are 15 new faces running around out there that helped us win that game.”

The stakes get higher Saturday, as the Herd (1-0) travels to North Carolina State (0-1) for a 6 p.m. battle at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. The game will be streamed on ESPN3 and televised on ACC Network Extra.

Holliday and his staff have awarded youngsters on an even grander scale, naming first-time starter Couch as a captain for the Miami game, and junior-college transfer receiver Marcel Williams as a captain this week. Williams looked like an old hand as a slot receiver at times last weekend, catching four passes on MU’s first offensive possession. One went for 20 yards.

Freshman safety Brandon Drayton led the team with 12 tackles, adding a forced fumble which was recovered by Omari Cobb. Juco transfer linebacker Artis Johnson had six tackles, safety Malik Gant played 24 snaps after C.J. Reavis was ejected and tackle Aaron Dopson had three tackles.

Offensively, MU’s line included freshman right tackle Tarik Adams. The line didn’t do a good job of run-blocking but kept quarterback Chase Litton upright in the passing game.

And so on.

Holliday gave an other example of how young the Herd is in spots: For many snaps, the Herd secondary had a freshman (Drayton) and three sophomores (Chris Jackson, Jaylen McClain-Sapp, Malik Gant), with another freshman at nickel back (Jestin Morrow).

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Other items from Holliday’s press conference:

n Ryan Bee, who moved over from “three-technique” tackle to nose tackle in place of Nyquan Harris, was named a game captain, along with Williams and kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik. Bee was named the team’s defensive champion.

Holliday pointed out that Vedvik’s 52-yard late-game punt with no return was as much a factor in Marshall’s victory last week as anything else. That pushed Miami back to its 17 with 53 seconds left and no timeouts available.

n Holliday said he gave strength and conditioning coach Luke Day a game ball after the win over Miami. The head coach pointed to the physical development of players such as Gant, and of the team in general.

“I told [the players] yesterday we needed a game like that,” Holliday said. “It was a heavyweight fight; I told them we needed that to see how we reacted.

“But I think the one great thing about having the opportunity to win a game like that is it validates everything that’s happened since January, all the hard work they put into it.”

n Rodriguez gained only 54 yards on 18 carries, but Holliday pointed out that it could have been a bit more. On Rodriguez’s long run of 14 yards, he was barely tripped up at the Miami 37-yard line. The Herd finished its 98-yard TD drive five players later, but …

“He got a hard time at the [team] meeting over that one run. He should have scored,” Holliday said.

n Speaking of running backs, Holliday said Tyler King will return to practice this week and make his college debut. The coach also said Harris is expected back.

As for receiver Tyre Brady, Holliday said ‘he’s got a shot” to return.

The coach was asked about another defensive lineman who did not appear last week, Damien Dozier. “He could have played last week [but] Couch and Durant played really well.”

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