MU notebook: Herd suspensions work out for the best
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato's 18 completions were neatly spread among 10 different Marshall pass-catchers in Saturday's 17-13 win over Louisville.
Conspicuous by their absence from that list were Antavious Wilson and Troy Evans, the listed starters at "Z" and slot receiver. Both were suspended for the game for violating team rules.
The Herd had a horde of receivers to plug in at the slot, but Wilson gets the majority of snaps at the "Z" spot. Demetrius Evans and Craig Wilkins are Wilson's listed backups and neither played because of injury. Aaron Dobson started at "X," but was limited and held to one catch for 27 yards.
It turned into a tag-team effort all around the perimeter. For the record, Andre Booker started at "Z" and Jermaine Kelson started in the slot. But everybody got in the act.
Booker led the team with 66 yards on three catches, his first three of the season. Wayne Bonner had his first two catches, for 23 and 15 yards. Jazz King not only had his first career reception, it went for his first career touchdown, a 2-yarder in the first quarter that gave the Herd a 7-0 lead.
It could prove to be a major addition by short-term subtraction.
"It sends a great message; we're a better team because of it," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "Unfortunately, we had two receivers who made a mistake and let the entire Marshall football program down.
"They weren't out there today, but it was great to see Jazz King step up and have a touchdown catch. Wayne Bonner played well, and that's what good teams do. Those guys will be back [today] and we will get it corrected and move on.
"That may be the greatest thing that could have happened to this team at this point."
C.J. Crawford didn't fully appreciate the gravity of his go-ahead touchdown catch. He just wanted to catch the ball and score.
"I didn't even know what time it was on the clock," Crawford said. "I was just catching it, scoring, getting the touchdown, trying to do it for the team. I didn't realize how much time was left."
There was 1:49 left after he got around safety Hakeem Smith, crossed the goal line and fell into the end zone back first. Dobson was covered well in another part of the end zone, and Crawford got loose near the left pylon.
"We were running slants, I was running into the flats," Crawford said. "I just looked back, saw the ball coming back and caught it. Next thing on my mind was just getting into the end zone, make sure I don't drop it."
Holliday said, "I think he made a heck of a catch. I'm anxious to see it on tape."
At times, two tight ends were used in the backfield beside Cato, giving the Herd's running game a boost in blocking. All three of MU's players at that position, Crawford, Gator Hoskins and Eric Frohnapfel, caught passes.
None are known as blockers in the Lee Smith mode, obviously.
"That formation gives us a better running start to hit those D-linemen," Crawford said. "It's just a little trick, something different to throw at defenses. It helps us out as tight ends and it got us out on the flat on a couple of catches."
Tyson Gale would admit he wasn't the best guy to return a blocked extra point for a potential 2-point conversion. But the ball ricocheted to him on the fly, so he tried the 90-yard dash to the other end.
He didn't get much past midfield when he started rethinking his options. Ultimately, he got knocked out of bounds about 25 yards short of the goal line.
He owned up to his failure in good humor. Shoot, getting faked out by Victor Anderson on the Cardinals' touchdown may have tired him out.
"Because I'm slow," Gale joked. "I got tired pretty quickly. All the guys in the locker room were saying, 'Pitch it back!'
"I said, 'If you guys are so fast, why don't you run past me and block someone?' "
U of L piped in coach Charlie Strong's postgame conference on the video board and the loudspeakers. Emphasis on loud.
Since he took over as Louisville's coach in 2010, his team has lost six home games. This one clearly irritated him more than most.
"Last week in practice, we didn't practice well, so we got it today," Strong said. "Offensively¸we can't turn over the ball; we cannot have penalties at critical times. We have to be able to run the ball. Look at us on defense, don't give them the big play, go stop them. We didn't do that today."
His team committed 11 penalties for 91 yards. Those conspired to kill two Cardinal drives, aiding the Herd's go-ahead touchdown drive and helping the Herd pick up a game-ending first down.
Two or three punts came harrowingly close to getting blocked. The Cardinals were outrushed for the first time. One field goal was missed and an extra point was blocked - and could have turned into two Marshall points.
The Cardinals (2-2) also have lost to Florida International at home. For Strong, it's getting old.
"Take the two losses this year and you look at last year - South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Kentucky, that's six losses at home. That cannot happen in your home stadium and you have to defend your house."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.