HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Essray Taliaferro understands that 50-yard runs aren't his calling card. In four years on Marshall's active football roster, the running back's longest gain has been 28 yards.
It's the 4- and 5-yard runs, though, that have made him such a trusted player this season.
After spending most of his Herd career near the bottom of the team's running back depth chart, the redshirt senior has evolved into starter, captain and steady hand in the backfield, one Marshall will keep at the front of the pack as the Herd hosts Southern Mississippi at noon Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
"Grooms and Stew are more of a ... they can bust any given play and have the crowd going crazy," Taliaferro said.
"I have an element where I can break some plays, but that's just an added element to their games. Their speed is just so ridiculous that they can bust any play.
"I'm a workhorse," he continued.
"Although we're about the same size, I can run more downhill between the tackles and get the third-and-1 or third-and-2 and the short touchdowns."
While Grooms and Butler might have that burst, Grooms' preseason high ankle sprain has robbed him of a couple of miles per hour. Butler hasn't played in the last two games and didn't even make the travel roster for the Herd's game at Florida Atlantic.
That's allowed Taliaferro to emerge, and he's rewarded the coaches' trust. He gave the team an idea of what he could do with his 130-yard performance in Marshall's 2012 season finale at East Carolina. He's started every game this season, leads the team with 502 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries, and added a pair of 100-yard games. He ran for 105 yards against Virginia Tech, then gained a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns last week against Middle Tennessee.
Before his breakout performance versus ECU, Taliaferro had gained 311 yards in his Marshall career.