Monday, September 8, 2014

Cato Hits the Ground Running, Herd Rolls Past Rams

There was a 34-minute weather delay of the start for Marshall's 2014 football home opener. Then, the real lightning at Joan C. Edwards Stadium was provided by Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato.

And it wasn't with that right arm that has passed for 10,704 Marshall yards.

Running as he hasn't before, the senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate led the Herd with 143 ground yards on only nine carries, as the hosts routed visiting FCS member Rhode Island, 48-7, before a soggy crowd of 25,106.

That was just part of an impressive offensive night for the Herd (2-0). Marshall piled up 724 yards total offense - the fourth-highest total in school history, and its 432 rushing yards trailed only the 576 that College Football Hall of Famer Jackie Hunt contributed to in a 67-0 romp against Detroit Tech way back in 1940.

The best historian on Cato on the Herd roster is his longtime Miami and Marshall buddy, slot receiver Tommy Shuler. The two have been playing together since they were age 6 on Miami playgrounds and schoolyards.

"I've never seen him run like that before," Shuler said of Cato. "When he took off on that one and went right through (the Rams) and he ran by me, I was just laughing. It was just fun watching him run.

"If he can do that, it brings a different part to our offense, another dimension. The run option scheme, he can make it work. He's a great decision-maker anyway.
"And he's faster than people think he is (4.6 in the 40). When he kicks it into gear, he can go now. People think he's just slow and he's just quick, but when he gets it kicked into gear because he's got long legs for his height (6 feet 1), and long strides."

Cato, told about Shuler's remarks, joked, "He's mad. He knows I'm faster than him."

You think Cato noticed the figure on the Heisman is running with the ball?

In his first three Herd seasons, Cato's longest run was a 23-yarder in a win last season at Tulsa. He topped that against the Rams with a 24-yarder late in the first half. In Marshall's 31-point second half, besides going 63 yards for that score that had Shuler laughing, the Herd QB also had rushes of 10 (twice), 12 and 17 yards.

"Our offense has done a good job the last couple years at taking what the defense gives us," said Herd Coach Doc Holliday, whose team prospered despite losing three fumbles. "We did so today. Cato thinks he's a running back now. It's good to see Stewy (Butler) run around a little bit and we got some young kids in there now, too.

"We had some good guys have the ball in their hands but we have to take care of it. We can't keep putting the ball on the ground."

Rhode Island's Jim Fleming, making his Division I head coaching debut, was impressed by Cato, too.

"He's a good player," the Rams' coach said. "He delivered a couple deep balls early and got on top of us when we were in press coverage, and put them on the money. He's able to move in the pocket. Everything is always a balance of what he's able to do and what we were unable to do. I think the kid's a good player."

Until Cato's 63-yard TD run - the fourth-longest jaunt by a quarterback in MU annals - the rushing day belonged to tight end-turned-running back Devon Johnson. He finished with a second straight 100-yard day. His 137 yards, on only 14 carries - give him 288 in two games.

If a Herd back has piled up more ground yardage than the guy nicknamed "Rockhead" in the first two games of a season, it's Hall of Famer Hunt. In 1941, he opened with 220 in a win over Omaha, but his totals in a Game 2 triumph over Illinois Wesleyan remain unavailable.

Butler, who was injured and missed the Herd's opening win at Miami (Ohio), had 68 yards on 10 carries, with two touchdowns, while Remi Watson added 66 on only five carries.

Cato and Johnson became the first Herd pair with more than 130 yards apiece in as game since running back Ahmad Bradshaw had 152 and quarterback Bernard Morris 151 in a Sept. 9, 2006 victory over Hofstra.

Cato's 143 total also ranked third for a QB in a Herd game, trailing Danny Wright's 179 (in 32 attempts) against Kent State in 1978, and Morris' 151 versus Hofstra in '06.

Through the air, Cato's 15-of-29 night for 267 yards included Davonte Allen's career game of five receptions for 115 yards - both highs in a Herd uniform. Shuler caught three for 68 yards, including his 18th career TD, and redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis' 20-yard TD catch was his first as a collegian.

The Herd defense had its moments, too, allowing only 111 yards, although the Rams had the ball more than 33 minutes. Rhode Island was just 4-of-17 on third down conversions.

"I thought the defense did some really good things," Holliday said. "We have to do a better job when we get that second group in there. We can't be a drop-off like we were today. I wanted to get some younger guys in there in that second half.

"They did not play the way they needed to play, so we need to get that fixed offensively. There is no question that we move the ball extremely well, but we can't turn it over. So, we need to eliminate the turnovers. If we do that then we have the chance to be a pretty good football team."

The Herd substituted liberally in the second half and used 66 players in the game. Now, thoughts turn to next Saturday's noon kickoff at "The Joan" in the long "Battle for the Bell" rivalry with Ohio (1-1) - a series in which the Bobcats have won three in a row.

"There always is," Cato said postgame when asked about the clamor that surrounds the Herd-Ohio series. "We can talk about that all the time, but it's not a secret what we want to do with that game and how we want to approach that team.

"They're rivals; we have to get after it. Now that this game is out of the way, we have to focus on Ohio."

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