Herd tight ends get loose
HUNTINGTON - No, there isn't any truth to the joke that Marshall's top three tight ends caught more passes during the season opener last weekend than they did all of preseason camp.
It only seemed that way.
When Eric Frohnapfel caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Rakeem Cato with 54 seconds left, the Thundering Herd had long been vanquished by West Virginia. But the score finished a productive day for Frohnapfel, C.J. Crawford and Gator Hoskins, the MU tight ends who combined for 12 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
OK, it wasn't quite that good. The stat sheets show the trio compiled 11 receptions, 132 yards and Frohnapfel's TD. Frohnapfel had a 24-yard catch, the longest of the bunch.
Except for the one that didn't count, a 52-yarder by Hoskins. He scurried around a block by Antavious Wilson and outran the Mountaineers down the sideline.
All that running was for naught, as Wilson was flagged for holding. That flag came right in front of the Marshall sideline, near the 50-yard line, so Herd coach Doc Holliday, fellow players and coaches had a pretty good look at it.
And they were furious. And animated. Holliday couldn't believe it, and he shared his opinions with the head linesman.
Emotions cooled, but a day later team members reviewed the video and didn't like the call any better.
"I actually watched 'Tay' the whole time," said receiver Aaron Dobson, who sat out the second half. "He just pancaked him, man, it was a good block. I guess the ref saw something different."
Hoskins, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior from Gainesville, Fla., had a fourth career touchdown and career-long gain negated. He, too, expressed frustration in a calm, measured manner.
"That'll kind of make you mad," Hoskins said. "I think it was a great block; he drove the man to the ground. I can't see the holding, but I'm not a ref out there."
Still, Hoskins gained 24 yards on a pair of catches. Crawford had 48 yards on three catches, and 6-foot-6 Frohnapfel had a team-leading six receptions for 60 yards and that one score.
That came with a bit of improvisation, as offensive coordinator Bill Legg relates.
"We call a four-verticals route, and it was a fourth-down situation where we know it's got to go into the end zone," Legg said. "Originally, I thought Eric was going to get the ball, and then Cato got flushed. We know that Cato, at times, once he gets on the move he's going to continue to look downfield, he's going to continue to find somebody open.
"So our kids are getting a better sense of that, a better understanding to extend the play, find windows, find open spots. Eric did that, and Cato found him, and lo and behold we ended up getting a touchdown."
That was Frohnapfel's second career touchdown, with his first coming as a freshman last year in the Herd's 59-14 pummeling of Alabama-Birmingham. Crawford, a 6-2, 229-pound junior, had touchdowns in 2010 and 2011, including the go-ahead score at Louisville.
Each of the three tight ends brings something a little different - Crawford is the speedy one, Hoskins has bulked up more toward tight end size and Frohnapfel is just plain tall. In scrimmages and team drills during August, however, they seemed like they were almost an afterthought.
The tight ends themselves knew better.
"There were definitely days in practice, in seven-on-sevens and team periods, we had our days," Frohnapfel said. "I just think in our scrimmages the balls didn't really come to us. We were coming off the field thinking, 'That was weird - I only had one catch, you didn't have any catches.'
"But we knew once the season rolled around, quarterbacks like their tight ends. That's what we like to think. Saturday didn't come as much of a surprise to us."
Hoskins said, "We knew the time was coming. Our defense at times, they just played different coverages - sometimes we'd be open, sometimes outside receivers would be open. But in the game, we've got A.D., a great receiver, Tay on the outside, a great receiver.
"Sometimes they'd be double-covered, covered in man, so tight ends will be open a lot."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.