Marshall University tight end Xavier Gaines scores a touchdown on a pass reception against Florida Atlantic University in a Conference USA game Friday in Boca Raton, Fla.

BOCA RATON, Florida – Marshall football coach Doc Holliday has long said the goal of his coaching staff is to get its best 11 players on the field.

Sometimes, that means doing unconventional things if it equals success.

Marshall utilized a unique approach Friday to take advantage of a favorable matchup during its 36-31 win over Florida Atlantic.

The Thundering Herd offense often featured three tight ends on the field, which took advantage of smaller defenders and created matchup problems for Florida Atlantic’s back two levels in coverage.

That three-headed tight end monster that wreaked havoc on the Owls consisted of Armani Levias, Xavier Gaines and Devin Miller.

“Armani is a big, tall guy that you put out there, and they had some long corners as well,” Holliday said. “It was great to see him, and [Gaines] made some plays.”

Putting three tight ends on the field at the same time was a two-fold situation.

For starters, Marshall was lacking in bodies at wide receiver. Obi Obialo was still out and even announced on social media on Thursday prior to the game that he would be sidelined for the rest of the 2019 season, leaving the Herd without a veteran outside presence.

Artie Henry, who was announced as lost for the season in September, also had surgery this week and is officially done for the year.

Henry was a starter in the slot for the Herd. Meanwhile, freshman Broc Thompson, who led Marshall with six catches for 91 yards in the prior week’s win against Old Dominion, also did not make the trip due to an injury suffered late in the contest against the Monarchs.

That left the Herd severely short on experience and production at the position.

“We’re down receivers,” Holliday said. “We’ve got three guys who are out that are all starters for us. We played a lot of two-tight [end] stuff.”

While it may seem like a hindrance, Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey actually turned it into an advantage. Cramsey used all three tight ends at the same time, which meant Florida Atlantic had to adjust its coverage.

The shifting of the tight ends to different positions proved problematic for the Owls throughout the contest.

“I thought Tim [Cramsey] did a great job of mixing and matching,” Holliday said.

Levias started the game on the outside and drew a pair of pass interference penalties in the contest while Gaines also drew a penalty on the first drive that helped lead to a field goal. Levias also later moved into the slot and was guarded by a smaller nickelback on a third down, which led to him breaking a tackle on a third-and-6 and going 59 yards for a touchdown.

The senior finished as the team’s leading receiver with four catches for 70 yards while Gaines added three catches and Miller added two more. The tight end position caught nine of Isaiah Green’s 15 completions in the game.

While the matchups in the passing game showed themselves, the biggest impact was that those formations also allowed Marshall to stay in the same personnel packages on the field, which did not offer Florida Atlantic the opportunity to substitute freely.

With the three tight ends all on the field, the run game was effective with all three being used as blockers, no matter where they ended up. It did not show itself at first, but as the game wore on, Florida Atlantic’s defensive personnel wore down. Marshall had just 13 yards rushing total on its first seven drives total, but over its final eight drives, the Herd amassed 241 rushing yards.

Holliday has said all along that the tight end group for the Herd is special and Friday proved it. The team’s three tight ends lined up at outside receiver, slot receiver, quarterback, H-back and in the traditional form of the position. At the end of the day, Marshall turned its own adversity into a positive, using the versatility of its tight ends to earn the win.