Marshall football: Penn State transfer feels comfortable in Herd secondary
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When Derrick Thomas arrived at Marshall in August, he had a lot of catching up to do.
The Penn State transfer had the talent, Coach Doc Holliday said. He just hadn't spent much time in the Thundering Herd's defensive system and, after joining the team during the fourth practice of the preseason, he had to learn a lot on the fly.
These days, Thomas is feeling a lot more comfortable in Marshall's secondary. He's started the last two games at corner and that trend should continue when the Herd (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) hosts Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
Thomas, a redshirt junior, said it was just as important for Marshall's veteran defenders to get used to him and the rest of this year's newcomers, as it was for him to get used to them. The bye week, he said, came at a great time and allowed everyone to mesh.
"I didn't really feel comfortable and probably would never feel comfortable until the whole defense was comfortable," Thomas said.
"I don't think I could get comfortable until the defense was comfortable as a whole. After everyone just got on the same page, I just felt more comfortable."
Thomas has three starts in seven games and is one of Marshall's more prolific tacklers, recording 28 with 14 solo, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups. It's also helped that coaches are allowing their defensive backs to play more man-to-man coverage, Thomas said.
"I think that's helping us because that lets the guys in the box do pretty much what they want to do, and they can focus on the run," he said.
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HERD KICKER Justin Haig doesn't ignore his roots at other positions as a member of the Herd's kickoff team. He recorded three solo tackles against Southern Mississippi.
"I get a little bit nervous because he made about every tackle on kickoff out there," Holliday said after the 59-24 win. "I told (defensive coordinator Chris Rippon) we'd put him at linebacker."
Haig, a graduate of American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla. played a little at quarterback and safety as a freshman and sophomore before focusing on kicking as a junior and senior. He said that, if he's going to attempt a tackle, he'd rather get there before the returner builds up a head of steam.
"I just focus on kicking the ball and a lot of times I'll see a hole and tend to fill that hole on the side I'm a safety on," he said. "It's easier for to tackle before he gets going, so I come up a little more."
In his day job, the redshirt sophomore has made 6-of-9 field goals and 36-of-36 extra points, with four touchbacks on kickoffs.
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SATURDAY'S GAME will have Conference USA title game implications for both the Herd and Knights.
There was a chance, albeit a tiny one, that NCAA sanctions would ban UCF from the postseason. But the NCAA won't hear UCF's postseason-ban appeal until Jan. 24, which leaves the Knights eligible for the C-USA title in their final year before they move to the Big East.
"I think it's great news for our team, great news for our fan base and we would've never had appealed that unless we thought we had a great opportunity to win that certain sanction," UCF Coach George O'Leary said. "Now, basically we can fight for a conference championship; we can go to a bowl game. Then we need to go out and win that appeal Jan. 24 and I definitely think we have a great opportunity to do that."
The NCAA hit UCF with scholarship reductions and postseason bans in football and men's basketball after determining the school committed major recruiting violations and showed a loss of institutional control. The football postseason ban is the only punishment UCF is challenging.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.