Taj takes over at safety
HUNTINGTON -- Most of the time when someone hears the name Taj they instantly think of the Taj Mahal, one of the world's most beautiful structures located in India.
However, there has been another 'Taj' that has emerged in the Marshall University football ranks. That would be Marshall sophomore free safety Taj Letman.
And the performance that he put on last week against UAB? Well, his teammates considered it a work of art as well.
Letman finished with a career high 11 tackles and had the game's momentum-changing play. His hit caused UAB running back Jordan Howard to fumble in the red zone before halftime with the Blazers trying to cut the Herd lead to one score.
The play led to a Marshall touchdown just before halftime that essentially took the fire out of the Blazers. Marshall (6-3 overall, 4-1 Conference USA) went on to post a 56-14 victory.
"You have to trust the person behind you," Marshall linebacker Evan McKelvey said "For him to make that play, that is big to stop that guy from getting in the end zone. Mentally, that was huge for us."
Letman, a 6-foot-2, 186-pound sophomore from Elberton, Ga., saw additional action in the contest with fellow free safety A.J. Leggett out because of an injury.
Leggett and Letman had shared snaps consistently throughout the season, but Leggett's absence forced Letman into a situation where he had to step up his game against a power running team.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said he challenged Letman early in the week and he responded with a physical assertiveness that not many had seen from him.
"For Taj to go in there and play like he did, it's critical," Holliday said.
Of Letman's 11 tackles, 10 came in the first half as he logged nearly all the snaps at the free safety spot.
He said much of his success was attributed to establishing continuity on the field and getting a feel for what UAB was trying to do offensively.
"When I got there and got a lot of snaps, it allowed me to get my rhythm and get comfortable," Letman said. "The game really slowed down tremendously."
Letman was in the starting lineup with true freshman Tiquan Lang, meaning the Thundering Herd was young in the secondary. However, age was no issue as both played extremely well.
"Those are young guys -- Taj is just a sophomore and Tiquan is a true freshman," Holliday said. "There's a lot of young players running around out there on that defense -- from the Corey Tindals to a lot of them -- who are young, but they're playing well and that's good to see."
Letman said part of the onus on those young players is to gain the trust of their teammates, and that starts with being in position when your number is called.
"We're the last line of defense," Letman said. "We've got to make the play. They have to be able to trust us to go out there and make those plays. And it's fun getting out there and making plays for our team."
With the short week before a 7:30 p.m. Thursday game at Tulsa (2-7, 1-4), it is not clear whether Leggett will be able to return. Letman will likely have to once again step up for the defense.
Letman said Marshall's defense is extremely confident as they head on the road.
"It's major because we're rolling," Letman said. "We're clicking on all cylinders right now. I still don't feel we've reached our peak yet, but everybody is getting their confidence and their swagger.
"It's going to be fun these last couple of weeks."
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