Marshall football: Herd cornerbacks stepped up in time of need
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If Marshall cornerbacks Monterius Lovett and Derrick Thomas were wanting a greater share of playing time, they got it against Memphis.
It wasn't like the two had any choice.
With fellow cornerback Keith Baxter sidelined with an arm injury, Lovett and Thomas shouldered the load during the Thundering Herd's 38-28 win over the Tigers.
"We had a pretty good idea that would be the situation around Wednesday of last week," Thomas said. "Me and (Lovett) just took it on knowing it was just something we had to do."
Baxter should be back for this Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (CSS/WVAH). But Lovett and Thomas impressed the coaches with their ability to tough out the entire game, especially considering both were banged up themselves and neither practiced in the week leading up to Memphis.
"That's what being a teammate is," defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said. "Being a teammate means 'I've got your back and I'd rather be on the field with you guys than being on the side.' Certainly, they have the respect of their teammates, but this puts the final nail in it."
It wasn't just that the two never rested. Coach Doc Holliday said the two had 13 opportunities to make plays during that game and they succeeded on 12 of them. Thomas, Holliday said, went 8-for-8. He recorded seven tackles, including a tackle for loss, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
"That's the pressure Doc can put you under sometimes, 'Are you going to step up when it's time to step up?'" Thomas said. "You'll hear a lot from Doc about competitive excellence. When your name is called and its time to make a play, are you going to make that play? If the defense sets me up to make a play, I try my hardest to make it."
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THE HERD isn't expecting a raucous crowd at Legion Field this Saturday. It probably shouldn't expect much of a crowd at all.
UAB (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) has one of the worst attendance averages in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In a stadium that seats more than 80,000 fans, the Blazers average 17,606 fans each game. That makes for a pretty quiet contest in a cavernous stadium.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said that's nothing new for the Herd (4-5, 3-2) this year. The crowd was nearly non-existent in Houston for Marshall's double-overtime win at Rice. Attendance was announced at 14,204, but that number came nowhere near passing the eye test.
"I bring my own energy, no matter how many people are in the stands," Cato said. "We practice out her like that every day, with no people in the stands. We just have to keep practicing like that and keep focused."
In fact, Cato said, there are some benefits to small crowds.
"There's a lot of good stuff that can happen, knowing you don't have a crowd on third down," he said. "You're able to check plays and stuff like that."
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HOLLIDAY KNOWS what UAB Coach Garrick McGee is going through when it comes to the Blazers' young quarterback Austin Brown.
Brown is a redshirt freshman still trying to get his feet under him in a new offensive scheme. Holliday watched Cato do the same thing last season as a true freshman.
And just like Cato, Holliday said he can tell Brown is improving as the season progresses. Brown is fourth in Conference USA with 231.8 passing yards per game. He's completed 146 of 252 passes for 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"Just like all freshman quarterbacks, it's their first year in the system and he's getting better as the season goes on," Holliday said. "He is a tough kid. You see him sitting there taking some shots, but he just gets right back up and goes right at it. He's a good player that is managing that offense very well."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.