Mitchell returns to field for Herd
HUNTINGTON -- As Marshall's defense struggled through the early part of the season, there was a man standing on the sidelines.
He was waiting, watching and quietly chomping at the bit.
On Saturday evening, Marshall linebacker Billy Mitchell unleashed the beast that had grown inside him for eight weeks.
"It was hard because I know what our defense could've done this whole year," Mitchell said. "Some people were trying to do too much, some people weren't doing their job. Little things like that can turn a great defense into a very poor defense.
"We were very frustrated in the beginning of the year. Just being out there today, though, I could see our defense -- the whole defense -- have that confidence tonight."
Mitchell had not been on the field in action since the second week of preseason camp because of issues with concussions that he had dealt with for two months.
He got back to light practice two weeks ago, then got back into the swing of things at full speed during the bye week.
Last week, when Marshall coach Doc Holliday said during his press conference that Mitchell would see action against Southern Miss, many scoffed at the idea because he had not been on the field for the entire season.
Not only did Mitchell get back on the field, he started for the Herd and played exceptionally well.
Mitchell finished with five tackles, a forced fumble that Marshall recovered in the end zone to prevent a Southern Miss touchdown and a pass breakup that was literally inches from being an interception.
For a team who has had major trouble creating turnovers this season, Mitchell's presence and ability to make things happen pleased Holliday.
"He kind of settled things down in there for us a little bit," Holliday said. "He's got some experience and he played a whole lot of football for us a year ago. Him being in there kind of gave us a calmness to that defense."
Holliday's talk of experience was critical for Mitchell in this game.
He is one of few Marshall players that was on the field for the Herd's last trip to M.M. Roberts Stadium -- a 41-16 loss in which the team was dominated from start to finish.
Mitchell took that game to heart when he took the field on Saturday.
"Definitely a lot better feeling this time around," Mitchell said with a smile. "Last time we were here was such an awful feeling. We all had a pit in our stomach the whole year. We circled this game last year when they came to Huntington, and definitely took it to them again this year."
Mitchell said Saturday's game provided the perfect end to the perfect week for him at Marshall.
"This week, everything was just falling together," Mitchell said. "I practiced every day full-go, so being out there and playing was just amazing. Our D-line was creating havoc in the backfield, all of our linebackers were coming downhill and safeties and corners making big plays when it was needed.
"The feeling of being out there again with my teammates, there's nothing like it. This was a lot of fun."
Mitchell and the Herd get back to work this week in preparation for UCF, who comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.