Oct. 5, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Marshall is celebrating birthday No. 175 and homecoming No. 111 this weekend. Harold “Gator” Hoskins doesn’t quite have those sort of touchdown numbers this season … yet.
The two leading TD men in Conference USA will be at Edwards Stadium on Saturday, as Tulsa (4-1, 2-0) visits the Thundering Herd (2-3, 1-0) for a another potential shootout game that will start to determine whether title-contending hopes in Huntington are real.
One is the Golden Hurricane’s 260-pound Alex Singleton … and it’s no surprise that a running back leads a conference with eight touchdowns. The other guy? It’s Hoskins, the Herd’s junior tight end. His six TDs rank next in C-USA.
Hoskins’ six scores are three more than he had all of last season. He and fellow tight end Eric Frohnapfel have combined for eight scores – half of the aerial TDs in the Herd’s prolific passing offense.
“No, they’re not starting to call me ‘Mr. Touchdown,’” the 245-pound Hoskins admitted a few days ago.
If he keeps it up? The single-season touchdown record for a Marshall tight end is nine, shared by Sean Doctor (1987) and Mike Bartrum (1992).
“I’m just going out and playing, running my routes and (quarterback Rakeem) Cato is finding me,” Hoskins said. “Six touchdowns … it’s just happened. I’m going with the flow, just doing what I’ve been doing, trying to find my way into the end zone.”
While some football coaches refuse to use a tight end or simply turn the spot into a glorified third tackle, Coach Doc Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg use the guy as something more than an Eighth Block of Granite (referencing Fordham football in the ‘30s with Vince Lombardi on the line).
Hoskins has 14 receptions for 118 yards, and Frohnapfel 11 for 124. And speaking of a homecoming, Huntington’s own C.J. Crawford
– the third member of the TE triumvirate -- has seven catches for 79 yards.
On Saturday, Hoskins and his backups will have some real competition at their very hybrid position in Tulsa’s 231-pound H-back, Willie Carter. He was a preseason all-conference pick by league coaches.
“It should be a pretty good matchup,” Hoskins said of the Herd Homecoming game. “We know Tulsa is one of better teams in other half, the way they been playing it seems like they’re going to make it to the conference championship. That would be the team we have to play to have a shot.
“We’ve just got to come out and play our game, keep doing what we’ve been doing on offense. The defense stepped up in the second half last week (at Purdue). And it’s always fun to play in front of the home crowd. They’re so hyped, they get us hyped. There’s just an energy they bring to the game.
“And conference play is different. We’re trying to get a conference championship, different because now we’ve lost three games, but that doesn’t stop us from getting a conference championship. Now, every game is a must win, or you might as well go home.”
What Hoskins brings to the game is something plenty of other pass-catchers don’t have – a keen knowledge of the position that is delivering the ball. Hoskins was a star quarterback for the Eastside High Rams in Gainesville, Fla., when recruited by Holliday and his then-new MU staff.
“I think it does help me, having been a quarterback in high school,” Hoskins said. “It helps a lot. On certain routes, you just know where the quarterback wants to put the ball, because you’ve been there.
“As an ex-quarterback, you know how you want this guy to run that route, so it helps me in that I know what Cato wants me to do. It’s also better in that Cato has really matured from last year when he was a freshman. He understands defenses now, where a year ago he didn’t recognize some things, His leadership … he’s become so much better in a lot of ways and that’s made the rest of us better.”
Hoskins also has 4.57 speed (in the 40), and he bench presses 380 pounds.
“He can block and then get downfield and open. Gator brings a lot to his position,” Cato said.
Hoskins also said another reason for the success he and the Herd offense are having relates to the variety and depth in the personnel. The quality challenges the Marshall offense has met – West Virginia, Ohio and Purdue – also has helped, he said.
“Nothing surprises me about our offense so far,” Hoskins said. “In the offseason, we had all of that hard work since the spring, and everything that Coach Holliday told us was going to happen has happened. And playing the kind of teams we have prepares us.
“Our defense is getting better, too. West Virginia has a great offense, and I don’t think anyone in Conference USA has an offense like West Virginia, and that prepares us for what’s ahead.
“Our offense, we’ve played some pretty good defenses. I think Purdue was a top 20 defense. I don’t think we’re going to see any defense like that in our conference.”
The Boilermakers entered last Saturday’s 51-41 home win over the Herd ranked 17th in FBS in total defense. When the weekend was over, the Big Ten’s Boilermakers had dropped to 43rd after being strafed by Cato and Co.
Holliday is undecided on whether he thinks some of Hoskins’ ability to find holes and seams relates to his high school quarterback history. The veteran Herd coach didn’t really see Hoskins doing what he is doing, however.
“We recruited him and we thought he was going to be a safety,” Holliday said. “He’s that athletic, but he’s just outgrown it and become an excellent tight end. I don’t know it helps -- him having been a quarterback -- or not, to be honest with you, but Gator’s got an understanding of what maybe the quarterback is looking at, that type of thing.
“Gator’s become a big-play guy, and he’s a physical guy, 245 pounds, but I don’t think people realize how athletic he is. He’s a really solid guy. Once we got him here, we put him at tight end because we thought create some matchup problems for people because of his athleticism and he has.
“He’s big enough and he’s strong enough he can both block and catch. He’s a good route runner and does a good job catching the ball.”
# # #
While the potential importance of this midseason game has been emphasized in varying degrees, there is another angle to the Tulsa-Marshall meeting that could have major implications in eight weeks.
If the Herd and Golden Hurricane would go on and win division championships, and finish with identical conference records, the first tiebreaker for hosting the Dec. 1 Conference USA Championship Game is the head-to-head game, if one is played.
Since C-USA realigned in 2005 – when Tulsa and Marshall joined the 12-team, all-sports conference, that tiebreaker never has come into play.