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Small-School College Stars of Week 11

Week 11 of the 2020 College Football season featured another set of thrilling performances from the ranks of the Group of 5 conferences. Whether it was Cincinnati continuing to dominate or Western Michigan pulling off one of the most successful fake spike attempts in recent memories, there was a lot to like from some of the smaller colleges in Week 11. Here are five performances that may have flown under the radar in Week 11:

Grant Wells, QB, Marshall

Stats vs. Middle Tennessee: 25/37 passing for 336 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 9.1 YPA, 68.0 QBR, 8 rushes for 39 yards, 4.9 yards per carry

On the 50th anniversary of a tragic plane crash that wiped out the Marshall football program, the Thundering Herd made a dramatic statement. As it stands, Marshall is tied as the 15th-ranked team in the country with Coastal Carolina. Even though much of the attention has gone to running back Brendan Knox and the Thundering Herd’s defense, much of Marshall’s success has come as a result of strong play from redshirt freshman QB Grant Wells. The 6-2, 210-pound QB from Charleston, W.V., put on a clinic in a 42-14 win against the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee to the tune of 336 passing yards to go with 5 touchdown passes. The Blue Raiders really had no answer for Wells and Marshall’s passing game once Wells got going. Wells got off to a slow start, but then heated up due to the success of Marshall’s intermediate and short passing game. By the end of the first half, Wells started to dissect the Blue Raider defense and showed impressive touch on his third passing touchdown of the game to lay the ball in perfectly to receiver Corey Gammage in the corner of the end zone. After that, Wells started to hit the majority of his deep balls, and he was very good at getting it to his receivers where only they could catch it. Marshall is undefeated through Week 11 and should garner even more attention thanks to the play of its young signal caller.

Caleb Huntley, RB, Ball State

Stats vs. Eastern Michigan: 34 rushes for 204 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 3 TDs, 1 reception for 13 yards

Ball State has relied on a formula of giving a hefty workload to senior RB Caleb Huntley. Through two games, Ball State has averaged 236.5 rushing yards per game en route to scoring 69 total points through the first two games. Currently, Ball State has a rushing touchdown to passing touchdown ratio of 3:1. A lot of this can be attributed to the reliability of Huntley and the trust that this coaching staff has in him this season. It has been evident through two games that Huntley is the key to Ball State’s success; he has averaged 27.5 carries per game to go with 167.0 rushing yards per game. In Ball State’s 38-31 victory over Eastern Michigan, the 5-10, 229-pound back was able to bowl over defenders as he compiled 204 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 34 rushes. Huntley was very difficult to take down for the Eastern Michigan defense, as he was able to use a combination of agility and impressive power. The senior back was great at finding holes, and he just kept his feet moving in order to ensure Ball State was able to get its first win of the season. Huntley’s most impressive run was his second touchdown of the game. It appeared he was only going to have a short gain before he kept his feet moving and was able to power through four defenders to get Ball State back into the game. It won’t be surprising in the least if Huntley is able to continue these huge stats given Ball State’s commitment to the run game.

Romeo Doubs, WR, Nevada

Stats vs. New Mexico: 5 receptions for 172 yards, 34.4 yards per catch, 3 TDs, long of 61 yards

Nevada has proven to be one of the better teams in the Mountain West Conference through four games due to a potent passing game. Through four games this season, junior wideout Romeo Doubs has been an absolute force in the Wolfpack’s passing attack. He is the go-to option for QB Carson Strong. This was evident in Nevada’s 27-20 thrilling victory over the Lobos of New Mexico. In a game where Nevada struggled to move the ball on the ground and did not look as smooth as its prior three victories, the 6-2, 200-pound junior compiled 5 receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns with a massive 34.4 yards per catch. New Mexico’s secondary had no answers for Doubs, as he was able to burn their defensive backs on three separate deep post routes. Even though this was Doubs’ lowest catch total in a game this season, he made good use of each of his receptions. So far, Doubs’ lowest yardage output in a single game has been 117 yards, and he continued to show in this game why he could be more of a brand name commodity around the country if he continues to produce at such a high level. Strong and Doubs are continually improving, especially in the deep passing game.

D’Marco Jackson, LB, Appalachian State

Stats vs. Georgia State: 9 total tackles, 5 solo tackles, 4 assisted tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 2 PDs, 1 QB hurry, 1 fumble recovery

In Appalachian State’s hard-fought 17-13 victory over Georgia State, the Mountaineers relied heavily on their defense after going down 10-3 early in the first half. This was not an issue for junior linebacker D’Marco Jackson, who had such a good game against the Panthers of Georgia State that he was named Pro Football Focus’ college defensive MVP of Week 11. This performance included 9 total tackles, a sack, 2 TFLs and a fumble recovery. It seemed like the 6-1, 225-pound junior was involved in nearly every defensive play for the Mountaineers. What separated Jackson from the pack in Week 11 was his ability to plug up holes in the running game. When Georgia State was able to find a gap in the front seven, Jackson made sure to close that gap very quickly in order to make sure Georgia State had no room to run. The Panthers are a team that relies heavily on being able to run the ball and use the read-option to open the passing game, so Jackson and company being able to stop the run was a huge reason for Appalachian State only giving up 13 points on the day. With a big game against Coastal Carolina in Week 12, this was a must have game for the Mountaineers to prove they are still the kings of the Sun Belt moving forward.

Jalen Cropper, WR, Fresno State

Stats vs. Utah State: 10 receptions for 202 yards, 20.2 yards per catch, 3 TDs, long of 59 yards

Another receiver from the Mountain West who had a monster day in Week 11 was sophomore wideout Jalen Cropper from Fresno State. The Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week for Week 11 torched Utah State to the tune of 202 yards and 3 TDs on 10 receptions. It didn’t matter if it was short, quick passes or deep balls down the field, Cropper was able to help out his QB any way he could in a 35-16 win for Fresno State. Cropper was utilized on a lot of screen passes and touch passes, but the 6-0, 160-pound sophomore also showed an impressive ability to find the holes in the zone coverage. Combine that with Cropper’s ability to gain a lot of yards after the catch, and there is a clear reason why he averaged 20.2 yards per catch in Week 11. Utah State could not keep up with this receiver no matter what coverage they threw at the Bulldogs. The Aggies tried to play a lot of zone coverage at the beginning of the game, but in the fourth quarter, they switched to man coverage. Cropper made Utah State pay for that as well on his 59-yard touchdown to put Fresno State up 35-16. He just sped past his defender and had nobody in front him. Fresno State has looked very good so far, and it’ll be interesting to see if Cropper can replicate this performance in the weeks to come.

Sources: ESPN, YouTube, Twitter, PFF College