Young players stepping up for Marshall
HUNTINGTON -- No matter where you look over the last several weeks, a young player has been stepping up for the Marshall football team.
Against Southern Miss, it was a career-high performance by Kevin Grooms in the rushing game that helped the Thundering Herd to a win.
In last week's loss to UCF, linebacker Deon Meadows made the most of his first extended action by recording seven tackles and forcing a fumble.
Then, on Saturday, it was the emergence of several other young players that came to the forefront.
"We had some young freshmen that had to come in there and make some plays," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "I thought that was one encouraging thing."
The Memphis game was full of young heroes for the Herd.
Whether it was the play of redshirt freshman wide receiver Davonte Allen, redshirt freshman fullback Devon Johnson or sophomore linebacker Cortez Carter, the Herd got crucial contributions from players who stepped up in their roles.
Allen has been hampered by injuries which have frustrated him all season, but when senior captain Aaron Dobson went down on the game's first play, Allen came up with four catches for 87 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6 that came on the game's climactic moment.
"Davonte probably made the biggest play of the game on that catch," Holliday said. "He got shoved out of bounds and did a nice job getting back in, went up and (got the ball) at the highest point."
All four of Allen's catches went for first downs and three were gains of 20 or more yards on third or fourth down. He also drew a pass interference penalty that accounted for another first down on a third down.
On each drive that Allen had a catch, the Herd ended up in the end zone. It's the type of production that Holliday wants from his young players.
"It was great to see," Holliday said. "A lot of times you get in that situation, those young kids are thrown into that fire and they don't respond."
While Allen's catch gave the Herd crucial momentum, Carter's sack punctuated the win for Marshall.
The defensive unit for Marshall had been on the field for a long time in the second half on Saturday, forcing the Herd to substitute freely to keep fresh bodies in the game.
Carter found himself in the spotlight after his 9-yard sack of Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam on fourth-and-7 in Herd territory.
On the play, Carter came untouched from Karam's right side for the sack.
It was a great time for the first sack of his Marshall career.
"Fortunately, on that last fourth down, Rip (Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon) dialed up the right deal and Cortez was able to get the sack right there," Holliday said.
Marshall also got a big jolt from someone who thought they would line up beside Carter this season.
Coming into the year, Johnson was a linebacker, but moved over to the offensive side of the ball in the second week of the preseason.
He went from preventing touchdowns to scoring them on Saturday when he caught a 9-yard pass out of the backfield from Rakeem Cato in the third quarter.
No matter what the scenario on Saturday, the Herd had young players stepping up to make big plays on both sides of the ball.
It is a trend that will need to continue if the Herd is to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible.