Marshall notebook: Herd running game gets unexpected jolt
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall had its best rushing output in nearly two months Saturday against Houston, coming despite multiple injuries at running back.
Steward Butler injured his left wrist during practice and watched. Remi Watson left early in the second quarter, putting no weight on his left leg as he was helped off.
That left Kevin Grooms as the lone member of the three "baby backs," and brought Essray Taliaferro into the rotation.
That Grooms rushed for 155 yards on 21 carries was no surprise, but Taliaferro churned out 66 yards on 18 carries. The 5-foot-7, 181-pound junior had 15 of those carries on Marshall's first two scoring drives of the second half, which resulted in a touchdown and a field goal.
The Thundering Herd also suffered more injuries on its offensive line. Left guard Alex Schooler went down. Josh Lovell replaced Schooler, Cam Dees started again at center and Chris Jasperse played much of the game at right guard.
Dees went down briefly, moving Jasperse back to center and bringing in the aching John Bruhin, the sixth-year guard determined to play on his senior day. Dees was able to re-enter.
"He was in pain, but you could tell he was going to be all right," said left tackle Jordan Jeffries. "He's got a shoulder injury; we've all been there. I've got one, too. Your shoulder dislocates, it goes back in, you get feeling back in your arm and then you go back out there."
Herd coach Doc Holliday expects Butler to return when Marshall plays East Carolina at 2 p.m. Friday, but doesn't know about other injury cases such as receiver Aaron Dobson, who missed his fourth game in a row starting with his injury early in the Central Florida game.
Marshall attempted a field goal in the first quarter after Grooms was stopped just short of the goal line and the Herd incurred a 5-yard illegal substitution penalty. But the penalty didn't cause MU coaches to change gears; they were going to kick it anyway.
Actually, coaches thought the Herd was going to end up with a touchdown on video review of Grooms' run.
"We felt upstairs, he went in the end zone," Holliday said. "The uncertainty was I wanted to slow things down and do that to challenge the call, because we thought he was in there on that particular play. He was ruled down, which he wasn't. I don't totally understand the penalty, because we don't huddle anyway. We substitute in and out - something about you've got three seconds to get a guy off the field, I don't know."
One call Holliday was itching to see on tape was the dead-ball personal foul on Billy Mitchell, one that came after the Herd forced an incompletion on third-and-10 at its 14. With first down at the MU 7, Houston scored on a Crawford Jones pass to Deontay Greenberry.
"Billy said all he did was go over there and was covering [a receiver]," Holliday said. "They said [Mitchell] went over there and hit him; I don't know what the hell ... That was a critical call, that's for daggone sure."
In special-teams follies, Trent Martin took two kickoffs in relief of Justin Haig. The first one went into the end zone for a touchback, though the Herd was flagged for going offsides and Houston started at the 30. The second kick was another special-teams disaster, with Martin making the tackle at the end of a 59-yard return.
That was Martin's first tackle of the year. Haig had to make his seventh tackle at the end of a 61-yard runback in the third quarter.
After a 38-yard return that gave Houston's last scoring drive a jump start, Haig was ordered to make a modified squib kick after his go-ahead field goal. That produced the best result, as the Cougars took their final play from their 19.
Some good news: Marshall has made 117 extra points in a row, dating back to a blocked PAT on Sept. 25, 2010 against Ohio. That streak has stretched across 32 games, and Haig is 52 of 52 this season.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.