Surprising stars emerging for Marshall
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- IT'S FUNNY. We follow spring practice and preseason camp in August and project who will do this and that and from which position.
By the autumn solstice, the script already has unraveled. By November, you might not recognize your favorite team, for better or worse.
At Marshall, a new character seems to emerge every week by now, thanks to injuries major and minor. Recent appearances have been made by Deon Meadows at linebacker, and the Glades Central (Fla.) duo of Demetrius Evans and Davonte Allen at the marquee "X" wide receiver position. And you can throw in Devon Johnson, the former linebacker who caught a touchdown pass out of his fullback spot.
Given his first start in Marshall's 38-28 win over Memphis, Meadows got in on 10 tackles and received credit for 11/2 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. It's a shame he fumbled on his attempt for a defensive touchdown on the last play of the first half, but stuff happens. It fit the game's general weirdness.
Meadows is playing in place of the injured Devin Arrington, and his effectiveness can be questioned. After all, he's playing on one of Conference USA's shakiest defenses.
(Accuse me of optimism if you will, but I must point this out: The Herd defense turned in one of its best halves of the season, yielding seven points and 113 total yards in the first 30 minutes. Add in a three-and-out to start the third quarter, and that effort allowed the Herd to compile a 31-7 lead. ... OK, so the wheels nearly fell off afterward, but still ...)
On the other side of the ball, I am reminded of coach Doc Holliday on multiple occasions saying he really wanted to see Evans, or saying he wanted to see what Allen could do.
In the Memphis game, we saw both after Aaron Dobson went down on the very first play from scrimmage. Both came up big.
We had seen quite a bit of Evans, enough to leave fans wondering why Dobson took so many snaps off, even important downs. But that experience paid off when Evans caught his second touchdown pass of the season, a 25-yarder that gave the Thundering Herd a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.
Allen has been an "X" factor at "X" for some time. He redshirted as a freshman last year, and injuries pretty much wiped out his spring and preseason camp. He said muscle pulls brought him down - a quadriceps in the spring, a hamstring in August.
For the longest time, those following the team on a day-to-day basis jokingly knew him as "the man in the red jersey," referring to the non-contact designation. He got enough work in to be used in the season opener against West Virginia, catching two passes for 18 yards. He had two more for 16 against Purdue, an 11-yard catch at Southern Mississippi and a 3-yard catch against Central Florida, stuff you would expect from a bit player.
But Allen's role was jacked up considerably when Dobson went out Saturday. Evans had more catches (seven, for 50 yards), but all five passes thrown Allen's way resulted in first downs.
There was a 20-yard catch on third-and-7 to the Memphis 5-yard line. On another drive, he made two first downs - 31 yards on a third-and-8 and 8 yards on a second-and-7. He drew a pass interference on a third-and-6, giving the Herd the ball on the Memphis 31.
All those came on scoring drives, and so did his final - and finest - catch.
When Marshall's lead dwindled to 31-28 and the home fans were anguished, Allen had his finest moment. From the Memphis 31, he streaked down the left sideline, jostled with a defender and finally got open for a perfect pass from Rakeem Cato.
The catch itself was no issue, but two officials had thrown their hats to mark where Allen went out of bounds during his route. They ruled that Allen was bumped out, allowing him to return immediately.
Evans thought something special was going to happen: "Once the play was called, I knew what the play was, I saw what coverage they were in, I just knew it was one of those great moments a great player has to make. He made the play."
Allen just wanted that TD to stand. "I just tried to hurry up and get off the field so we can kick [the extra point]," he said.
I'm not sure if Johnson, one of the more physically mature true freshmen you'll see, will stay at fullback after 2012. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound native of Richlands, Va., could still have a future back across the line of scrimmage.
Nonetheless, he's having fun playing a little special teams and lining up in two-back sets. The 9-yard touchdown, which gave Marshall its 31-7 lead, was a nice reward.
Johnson returned the favor after Cortez Carter ended Memphis' offensive day by clobbering quarterback Jacob Karam on fourth down. With 21/2 minutes still remaining, he and Steward Butler were sent out with one order: Run for a first down or two.
Butler pounded out 8 yards on third-and-7, and then gained 18 more. Take two knees, game over, drive home safely.
"That was fun," Johnson said. "Stew looked at me and said, 'Let's go. Make a hole.' I was like, 'I got you.' I just hit the hole and hit 45 [Anthony Brown] a couple of times, and Stew broke free."
Considering the pronounced depression of the fan base after the 54-17 rout by UCF, I thought MU was fortunate to have 18,000 in the stands for the Memphis game. (22,041? Uh, no.) This coming Saturday, I will be reminded why I've quit getting bent of shape over an empty patch of metal.
Next up for the Herd is the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which in this space will not be referred to on first reference as UAB (another rant, another day). As in 2006, 2008 and 2010, the game will not take place on the school's attractive, modern campus.
It will take place at the razor-wire-ringed Legion Field, 10-15 minutes west in a not-so-modern neighborhood. Repeated reports say hot water in the locker rooms at the 85-year-old stadium has gone the way of the Auburn-Alabama game.
This month marks the 1-year anniversary of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees essentially telling UAB supporters: "No stadium for you. Learn to love Legion Field. It's your home forever." The backlash lives on at freeuab.com.
As for Saturday's game, everything points to the crowd being the lowest in my four visits. The Blazers are 2-7, the 3:30 p.m. Central kick time means darkness (and falling temps) by halftime, basketball season has started at UAB and, like their counterparts at MU and West Virginia, the student body has no doubt bailed.
And that other pesky detail: Top-ranked Alabama plays No. 15 Texas A&M an hour earlier.
Much like the Rice game in September, Herd players will have to create their own energy.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.