HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There were plenty of plays worth applauding in Marshall's first spring scrimmage Saturday morning.
For instance, there was Kevin Grooms' 12-yard touchdown run, in which he showed his considerable moves. Freed up by an Alex Schooler block, Grooms juked defensive tackle Steve Dillon face-first into the turf of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Then there was Stefone Grace's leaping catch of a Blake Frohnapfel bullet in the back of the end zone, holding onto the ball as he was hit hard.
The Thundering Herd offense scored six touchdowns and gained 459 yards in the 91 scrimmage plays. Rakeem Cato and Frohnapfel combined to go 28 of 46 for 322 yards, and the offense gained 23 first downs.
Those numbers were just as much a compliment to the defense, which gave up barely 5 yards per play. Last year, that defense allowed 7.1 yards per snap, leading to those hideous 43.1 points allowed per game.
The defense had its highlights Saturday. Freshman Corey Tindal showed why he has been the top nickel back all spring, and Derek Mitchell made his case for playing when the defense shifts out of the 4-2-5 into a traditional 4-3. Freshman Stefan Houston showed his abilities, and the cornerbacks showed they can indeed play closer than 12 yards to receivers.
Ra'Shawde Myers even scored a safety, blowing in untouched to snuff a Steward Butler run in the end zone.
But there were those missed plays on both sides, the groaners you see 41/2 months before the season opener.
Shawney Kersey dropped three passes and messed up a possible touchdown in an apparent miscommunication with Cato on third-and-3 at the 9-yard line. Of the offense's six touchdowns, two came on drives of 55 and 50 yards, with the rest starting at the defense's 12- or 3-yard lines.
The defense forced no turnovers and was flagged four times for pass interference.
So what does one make of this scrimmage, one in which neither side dominated?
Much of coach Doc Holliday's discussion centered on the heavily scrutinized defense, whose honor new coordinator Chuck Heater is attempting to restore.
"I see good things on both sides of the ball, which is encouraging," said Holliday, in his fourth season. "I think that defense is playing extremely hard, they're getting lined up [correctly]. You see some guys show up - Corey Tindal showed up a lot as a freshman, Stefan Houston showed up. [Second-string end] Joe Massaquoi is another young guy who hasn't played a lot of football is another who's showing up.
"The defensive staff has done a great job in getting those guys prepared and playing hard, and they've improved."
Heater said the first two practices of the week helped dictate what transpired Saturday.
"We got better this week. We had a good day on Thursday," he said. "We competed well in segments, at times. I've got to keep records of certain segments, and we have done a good job [at times], but we had not played well as a team. At times today I thought we jumped up and fought pretty well."
The offense failed to score in its first six possessions, though two promising possessions were ended only by the coaches' script. Then, with the second units on the field, Frohnapfel found Chris Alston Jr. for a 19-yard TD on second-and-11. It was the first of Frohnapfel's three scoring tosses.
Then the offense started at its 2 for four possessions. It gained a first down or two three times, but Myers scored his safety while taking a shift with the first unit. He mostly has been working on the second string at defensive end opposite Massaquoi.
"Everybody [on the offense] slanted the wrong way," Myers said. "Everybody [on the defense] was on the same page."
Myers had seven tackles and two for loss, numbers that were topped only by Derek Mitchell's eight tackles, 31/2 for loss and three sacks.
The Herd finished the day with red-zone drills, and the offense was stopped both times from the 25. Starting at the 12, Grooms was thrown for a 4-yard loss before Cato hit Eric Frohnapfel from the 16. The big tight end slipped behind a defense sucked in to stop a screen pass.
On the next possession, Blake Frohnapfel faced third-and-13 at the defense's 15 when he fired his scoring pass to Grace. Arguably, it was the play of the day.
"That was one of those plays where I saw him kind of break open," the quarterback said. "I threw it, I thought the safety was closing in on it and I got a little worried there, but [Grace] got in there and made the catch. He's a fantastic athlete."