Herd receivers steal scrimmage spotlight
HUNTINGTON — It remains to be seen whether Marshall can get the production it needs from its outside receivers, but they showed some ability to strike quickly on Saturday.
In the Thundering Herd’s nighttime scrimmage, six different receivers caught touchdown passes, all for double-digit yardage. There were a few non-scoring receptions in double figures, as well.
The outside pass-catchers accounted for much of that action, drawing occasional applause from the approximately 200 fans at Edwards Stadium.
After Rakeem Cato misfired on his first five passes, he found freshman Angelo Jean-Louis down the right side for a 27-yard touchdown. A few possessions later, from the offense’s 1-yard line, Cato hit Davonte Allen for 42 yards down the left sideline.
Two series later, Allen fended off Corey Tindal in the end zone, getting at least a tiptoe inbounds for a 22-yard score.
Tight end Deon-Tay McManus got in the act with a 21-yard TD catch from Gunnar Holcombe, making a nice adjustment on a late throw. Craig Wilkins, bumped down a peg by Jean-Louis at the “Z” position, caught a 38-yarder from Holcombe despite respectable coverage by D’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson.
Emanuel Beal had an 11-yard TD catch from Cole Garvin, and then Steward Butler and Remi Watson scored on the ground. Rodney Allen finished the scoring by bobbling, then securing, a 12-yard bullet from Michael Birdsong. Birdsong is the James Madison transfer who is sitting out this year.
“I’m having fun right now,” said receivers coach Mike Furrey. “I’m having fun seeing these guys because when they’re doing their job, they’re pretty special. I was pretty pleased with tonight.”
The offense as a whole performed pretty well despite being down three first-string offensive linemen — and having a patchwork second unit as a side result. The four tailbacks (Devon Johnson, Butler, Watson and Tony Pittman) ran for a combined 159 yards on 41 carries, and the quarterbacks were tagged for “sacks” just twice.
Granted, the defense was missing a healthy amount of personnel — defensive tackle James Rouse, linebacker Evan McKelvey and cornerback Darryl Roberts, among them — but that kind of production seemed to please coaches and offensive players alike.
“The receivers made more plays than they’ve been [in earlier practices], catching the ball downfield. That was good to see,” said MU coach Doc Holliday. “Some of those young kids, I was anxious to see when we got off the field, how they’d play, and they reacted pretty well.”
Fourteen different people had at least one catch, taking advantage of having officials call pass interference fouls early. (In practices this month, defensive backs have pretty much been riding receivers down the field.) Allen’s 65 yards on two catches led the way.
After his sloppy start, Cato finished 5 of 11 for 122 yards, but the day was more of an audition for Holcombe at the No. 2 spot. He suffered an interception and his share of sloppy incompletions before clicking on his long passes. He finished 11 of 22 for 151 yards.
“When I stay focused in the zone and don’t panic, I do good things,” Holcombe said. “I’ve got a good bit of confidence; I’ve had a pretty good week in practice.”
n Give Justin Haig an ever-so-slight victory in the field-goal kicking battle. His highlight was making a 51-yarder, which challenger Nick Smith failed to match. Haig did miss a 45-yarder, though, which Smith made.
n How well did officials get the message across on pass interference? The scrimmage had barely begun, or so it seemed, when Taj Letman was flagged twice and Corey Tindal once in the span of seven plays. The secondary behaved the rest of the way.
n Freshman Kendall Gant had one of the two interceptions. The other went to Mark Shaver, the redshirt freshman walk-on from Huntington who has spent much of camp chasing scholarship receivers.
n There was a specific reason Holliday ran the 90-minute scrimmage in the evening.
“I liked our schedule today because we walked out of here at 6:30 last night, so they had about 24 hours off before they came back here and scrimmaged tonight,” he said. “I thought their energy was good and they played extremely hard. It was good to see.”
n The team will follow a post-game Sunday schedule, with morning weightlifting and team meetings during the day. Players will have a fun time tonight, though, with entertainment planned.
n Practice continues Monday, with two-practice days Tuesday and Thursday. The workouts are now closed to the public.
Reach Doug Smock at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.