Marshall notebook: Smiles all around after Herd says 'Cheese'
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's Devon Johnson had an unlikely three-touchdown game Friday, two scored out of an unlikely formation.
The burly 6-foot-1, 240-pound sophomore from Richland, Va., received his first career carry with 4:48 left in the first quarter, and it was something no one outside the Thundering Herd camp expected.
Generally used as a tight end, Johnson lined up in the backfield - not as a fullback as you might suspect, but a tailback. The fullback? Blake "Big Cheese" Brooks, the 302-pound junior lineman from South Charleston High.
Herd coaches call it the "Cheese formation," and they were waiting to spring it at the right time - like first-and-goal at the East Carolina 2-yard line with the score 3-0.
"We had it for a couple weeks. [Players] were on me, wanting to run it at FIU," said coach Doc Holliday. "I said, 'No, let's keep that for East Carolina.' It helped us [to] get big Devon Johnson with 'Cheese,' we call it our 'Cheese package.' We got 'Cheese' in there, that's our big, fat guard."
Holliday backtracked on that one: "He's not fat anymore, he's about three [hundred], he's skinny now," he said.
"Anyway, we've had that in, and I just think it gives us an opportunity that when we want to go get a yard, we can get a yard."
In the Herd's first drive of the second half, Johnson repeated the feat to give MU a 31-10 lead. It happened one more time, on a third-and-1 with the Herd up 52-20, and it appeared the Pirates had that play solved once and for all.
Not quite. Johnson bounced off some poor soul at the line and sped around the left side of the pile for 8 yards and a first down.
"I would hate to see Blake Brooks, 'Cheese' and Devon Johnson running at me," said center Chris Jasperse. "That's a huge package, and we took advantage of that today."
In case you think Johnson is slow, he proved otherwise late in the third quarter, when he took a Rakeem Cato pass and turned it into a 52-yard TD to make the score 45-20. He didn't barrel anyone over; instead, he outran the secondary.
He did have a 41-yard catch to his credit entering Friday's game.
"He's not slow. He's far from slow," said running back Steward Butler.
Marshall's most worrisome injury came to Darryl Roberts, the cornerback who played a major role in turning the Herd's defense around. He hopped off midway through the third quarter, and later had his left ankle wrapped in ice.
Right tackle Clint Van Horn left for a down with a cramp, but returned. The play he missed was memorable: With ECU star linebacker Derrell Johnson trying to bowl over Gage Niemeyer to get to Cato, the quarterback stepped up and threw his 52-yard TD to Devon Johnson.
Essray Taliaferro's career-high 161-yard rushing game put him over the 1,000-yard mark, the first MU back to reach that since Darius Marshall ran for 1,131 in 2009. Taliaferro now has 1,006 yards in 12 games.
Tommy Shuler's 147 receiving yards gives him 1,019, the second year in a row he his hit four digits. With two more games, he is on pace to eclipse his 1,138 of 2012. For his career, Shuler has 2,279 yards, 11th on MU's all-time list.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.