Marshall football: Mitchell wastes no time to make impact in return
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Marshall linebacker Billy Mitchell wanted nothing to do with being a mere spectator. But after suffering two concussions since the spring, he had no choice.
He couldn't practice or work out, until he recovered from the second concussion. That process took until the Thundering Herd's seventh game of the season. And when Mitchell finally got the green light to return to the field, he wasted little time in making an impact.
Mitchell's first game of 2012 was his first start of 2012, and the redshirt junior came up with some big plays in the Herd's 59-24 win over Southern Mississippi.
Mitchell had been splitting first-team reps with Jermaine Holmes last week, when coaches made the call to give Mitchell the starting nod. He admitted there were some nerves in his 2012 debut.
"The first play, there was definitely butterflies," he said. "But after that first play, I knew I was right at home playing ball."
Mitchell recorded four tackles in his first game back. He nearly picked off a pass as well. He also stripped USM's Tyre Bracken, and redshirt freshman defensive end Armonze Daniel pounced on the ball in Marshall's end zone for the touchback.
Marshall head Coach Doc Holliday said it wasn't just Mitchell's physical contributions that made him so essential Saturday.
"I think Billy Mitchell kind of settled things down there a little for us," he said. "He's got some experience and he played a whole lot for us a year ago. Putting him in there, I just felt he gave kind of a calmness to the defense."
Teammates praised Mitchell's ability to communicate and his relentlessness on the field. Mitchell said his first game back couldn't have been better, and he's excited to be on the field with a team with so many weapons.
"It's great," he said. "The offense is great and it's the first year in a while we've had an offense this explosive. And to have a defense that can stop people and create turnovers, that's all we need."
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MITCHELL WASN'T the only Marshall player thrust into the starting lineup after recovering from injury. Defensive lineman Ken Smith also got the starting nod against the Golden Eagles. He recorded three tackles. While Smith returned to the lineup, redshirt freshman Jarquez Samuel did not make the trip to Mississippi. Holliday said Samuel was sidelined with an unspecified injury, but should be fine for this coming Saturday's game against the University of Central Florida.
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WHILE QUARTERBACK Rakeem Cato maintained his torrid pace with a 340-yard, three-touchdown performance against Southern Mississippi, the Herd got a huge boost from its running game, namely redshirt freshmen Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson.
Grooms led all rushers with 119 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. One of those scores was a 64-yarder that he sprinted away from the Golden Eagles defense to attain.
Butler gained 71 yards on just seven carries, one being a 54-yard touchdown. And Watson gained 56 yards on 10 carries.
Grooms said the three have a healthy competition with each other and one's success spurs the other two to match it.
"We just push each other," Grooms said. "If (Butler) breaks (a long run), I want to break. If I break, he wants to break. If Remi breaks, I want to break. We just feed off each other."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.