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With DJ Matthews out, Indiana needs Miles Marshall to play up to his potential

If there was one game to serve as a symbolic representation of Miles Marshall’s promising yet inconsistent career, it was Indiana’s win against Western Kentucky on Saturday.

For the first two quarters, Marshall, a redshirt junior wide receiver, was silent. Despite throwing for 218 yards in the first half, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. only tossed two passes Marshall’s way, both of which were incomplete.

In the third quarter, though, Marshall suddenly emerged. A few minutes into the second half, Marshall ran a perfect route, cutting toward the sideline, and Penix Jr. hit him in the chest for a 12-yard gain. Three plays later, Marshall streaked across the middle of the field and hauled in an 11-yard catch. Then, Penix Jr. delivered a ball at Marshall’s toes, but he adjusted, cradling his arms under the pigskin to secure the catch.

“We knew a lot of underneath throws were going to be there, so we just took what the defense gave us,” Marshall said.

In the fourth quarter, however, Marshall disappeared again. He had no catches and wasn’t even targeted one time during the crucial final stretch of the game.

Wide receiver Miles Marshall warms up before Indiana's win over Western Kentucky. (HN photo)

In all, Marshall finished with five catches for 64 yards. Three of those catches, however, came on one drive. The game painted an accurate picture of Marshall’s career as a whole: He's showed flashes of his skill, but there hasn't been any reliable production.

On Monday, IU head coach Tom Allen announced that star newcomer wide receiver DJ Matthews is out for the rest of the season. Ahead of Saturday's matchup at Penn State, and for the remainder of the season, somebody else in the receiving room needs to step up.

Marshall has all of the tools to do so with a 6-foot-4 frame, speed and length. For years, coaches have raved about Marshall’s potential. Now is the perfect time for him to show it.

“You have to be able to, when called upon, rise up and seize the day,” Allen said about the wide receiver group.

Even back to Marshall's days at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, the word “measurables” seemed to follow him. As a ninth-grader, Marshall was taller than most of his teammates, with a long frame and obvious athleticism. As he grew taller, Marshall developed better body control, allowing him to use his size to his advantage. He didn’t miss practices. He stayed after to get in extra work if he needed it. He was always on time. 

“A hard-working, respectful, very coachable kid,” Parkview head coach Eric Godfree said. “He’s a great student, he’s great on the field, off of the field, his parents raised him right. Basically what we all want our sons to be.”

Even at Parkview, a school that regularly produces Division I talent, Marshall stood out. He’d run out-routes “as naturally as anyone that’s come through here,” Godfree said. One game, Parkview was trying to get into field goal range before halftime when Marshall caught a 5-yard hitch, made a defender miss and flew down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.

“It was like, ‘Ok, his explosiveness is starting to come out,’” Godfree said.

Marshall went on to set Parkview single-season records for receptions (73), yards (1,118) and touchdowns (15). He eventually committed to Indiana, where he was rated as a three-star prospect, but it was clear to his coaches that he had so much more upside than that ranking.

“His ceiling was much higher,” Godfree said. “We knew that he was going to go out in college and make an impact and be a great player and continue to improve.”

At Indiana, though, Marshall hasn’t broken out as many had hoped.

After redshirting his first year, Marshall had 16 receptions for 196 yards and one touchdown in his freshman season. Then last season, he finished third on the team with 290 yards on 19 catches. He had encouraging moments like four catches for a career-high 89 yards against Ohio State. But he also battled through a concussion, and the play that will stick in most fan’s minds was when he let would’ve been a walk-in touchdown go right through his hands against Wisconsin.

“I watched it (that play) probably one hundred times to see what I did wrong,” Marshall said. “There’s nothing I really did wrong. I followed the ball all the way through, it was just a lack of focus.”

During his time at IU, he’s absorbed knowledge from wide receivers like Nick Westbrook, Whop Philyor and current teammate Ty Fryfogle, which he said has helped him improved his practice habits. That, plus another year of experience under his belt and the departure of Philyor, created optimism that Marshall was ready to take a significant step in his role this season. Instead, he was a non-factor through the first three games, tallying just two catches for 32 yards.

“As a football player and a human being, it’s just human nature to get down on yourself when you drop a ball you knew you were supposed to catch,” wide receiver teammate Jacolby Hewitt said of Marshall.

But there’s hope that his five-catch performance on Saturday could serve as a springboard. The IU coaching staff teaches all of its receivers to play both on the outside and slot positions, meaning Marshall will have more than enough opportunities for the remainder of the season.

“I know that he’s going to step up in a big way this week,” Hewitt said. “We’ve both been telling each other, ‘Be ready for that moment.’”

Marshall’s plan? Keeping it simple.

“Every time I’m on the field, I think the ball's coming my way,” Marshall said. “I try to run every route to get open and catch the ball.”

For right now, that’s all Indiana needs.

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