Saturday, September 13, 2014

Herd Rings More than a Bell in Triumph

Ring-a-ding-ding!

There were plenty of ways you could describe Marshall's performance at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday in the 58th football meeting between the Herd and Ohio. It was record-setting. It was convincing. It was frustration-ending. It was streak-ending and streak-extending. It was one-sided.

Yes, it was a bell-ringer.

Marshall ended the Bobcats' three-game winning streak in the regional rivalry, rolling to a 44-14 triumph before 31,710 spectators and gaining more than 700 yards total offense for a second straight game ... the first time that's happened in Herd history.

A week after piling up 724 yards in a 48-7 rout of FCS member Rhode Island, the Herd (3-0) got the most yardage it has against a major college foe since gaining 733 in a 66-21 triumph over Buffalo at "The Joan" in 2002.

Herd seniors like quarterback Rakeem Cato, center Chris Jasperse and slot receiver Tommy Shuler had a once-in-a-career day when they and their teammates carted off the bell Ohio (1-2) had kept from them from 2011-13.

They were not alone in career days or numbers that ranked right up there with their tops in a Marshall uniform as the Herd won a 10th consecutive home game, committing only one turnover after 13 versus Ohio in those three losses.

Herd cornerback Darryl Roberts had a career-best 11 tackles. Outside receiver Davonte Allen made five receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Angelo Jean-Louis had 158 yards on four catches. Running back Stew Butler finished with 119 yards on 19 carries.

Marshall ran 79 plays, 46 of those rushes. And after Ohio held a 26:30 time of possession bulge in the Bobcats' three straight triumphs, this time the Herd was a plus-7:56. And it was equal opportunity offense.

Marshall had only one three-and-out. Seven drives lasted at least seven plays. And Coach Doc Holliday's attack included 22 plays of at least 10 yards.

As the Herd heads to Akron (101) next Saturday afternoon, can the offense get any better than this?

"We're getting better; we're still not all the way there," said Marshall veteran offensive coordinator Bill Legg. "That's the basic thing. When you've got some veteran kids, especially at quarterback and center - so that you get things pushed in the right direction - got kids on the perimeter making plays, some running backs making plays, it gives you a chance.

"We still have some things we can get better at. So, am I excited, am I pleased? Absolutely, but the road's going to continue to get harder, get tougher, and we've got to continue to improve and keep seeking more consistency than we have now."

In the last 29 games - starting with the 2012 opener - the Herd has 16 games of at least 500 yards total offense. It wasn't expected to be like this against Ohio, which had allowed only 697 yards and 34 points combined in a win at Kent State and loss at Kentucky.

"I mean, it's there," Legg said of the Herd attack. "It's there; we're one step closer. Believe me, this was a much tougher task today. To have 700 yards is a little surprising against these guys because I have the utmost respect for their coaching staff and their players, and what accomplished over the years. But it shows what we're capable of doing if we just stay the course. And so that's my message to the kids."

Allen, the 6-foot-2 redshirt junior who has emerged as Cato's top outside target, had four of his five receptions for 113 yards and two scores in the first quarter.

"We've been working on that all season," Allen said. "I tell (Cato) to throw the ball up, and I'll be there. I'm going to try my best to go get it, and no one else will come down with it. He's got that confidence in me."

Two of Allen's catches were of the jump-ball variety, and three were for 46, 36 and 25 yards.

"Those were just huge," Legg said of the "outside" statement. "We went into the game and we knew that we needed to win on the outside so that they would double-team our inside receivers, so that they wouldn't load the box.

"We needed to push them into more coverage-minded deals and allow us to create a sense of balance in our offense. Those early ones were big and we had a couple of other ones. Tommy Shuler (four catches, 76 yards with a TD) made a couple of plays adjusting to some balls, and Angelo did a heckuva job seeing (Cato) scramble, cutting across, Cato finding him and getting rid of the ball, and for him to take it (to score) the rest was huge."

That was Cato's 77-yard third-quarter scoring pass to Jean-Louis when Cato spun out of the collapsing pocket, ran left, threw off his opposite foot and a field-crossing receiver. Jean-Louis took it to the end zone.

"That's just making a play," Cato said. "The pocket was clean, and I just saw him and threw the ball. He made a great play with a great run. That's all him."

It matched the longest completion of Cato's career - a 77-yard touchdown throw to Aaron Dobson on the first play of a 2011 home overtime win over East Carolina. The senior quarterback was 17-for-29 passing for 425 yards and four scores - giving him 100 TD passes in his career.

Cato's streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass is now at 35, which leads active FBS quarterbacks. The NCAA record of 38 belongs to Seattle Seahawks' star Russell Wilson (N.C. State and Wisconsin, 2009-11).

The 425-yard performance ranks fourth on Cato's single-game Herd list, and with two more completions, he will pass Byron Leftwich's 939 for No. 2 on the Marshall career completions chart. Chad Pennington had 1,026 in 1995 and 1997-99.

And one more for the record books ... Cato averaged 25.0 yards per completion, which is a Herd record in games where any quarterback has completed 10 or more passes.

In the backfield, 243-pound Devon Johnson bulled his way for 91 yards on 14 carries and in tandem with the speedy and shifty Butler they produced 210 ground yards. Legg said the change-of-pace the Marshall run game offers now is a plus, too.

"It's really big because you've got a guy who can mash it, a guy who can make you miss, and a guy that has the ability to do a little bit of both (Remi Watson)," the Herd offensive coordinator said. "No question it helps.

"You can never have enough good players. You can never have enough. Right now, we're playing eight guys at receiver/tight end. I think today, we played about 12. But going into the game, we knew we'd play eight, play four outside receivers, four inside receivers between slots and tight ends.

"We knew we'd play at least two backs. Remi, he didn't practice full-fledged with a little bit bruised ribs, and we tried to be cautious with him. We've got to get him back on again because he's played really well in first couple games.

"You really never have enough good guys. It starts up front, and those guys are doing a heckuva job. Chris (Jasperse) is doing a fantastic job of directing traffic at center and they're listening and they're playing hard, and you've got a guy who's pulling the trigger like the guy pulling the trigger for us, and you have a chance to be special."

Holliday said the Herd set the tone early, starting with the MU defense bouncing back from a 53-yard completion by OU quarterback Derrius Vick with a goal-line stand that forced Ohio into a 19-yard field goal try that missed.

"We always talk about setting the tone for the game," Holliday said. "I think Raheem Waiters (blowing up Ohio kick returner Davin Bass at the Bobcat 14) set that tone, at that first kickoff. He went down there and made a big time play. (Vick) ended up completing that long ball ... It was huge that our defense stood their ground right there.

"I thought that was a critical part of that game for the defense to get that stop even after giving up that big play. I thought the defense played tremendous."

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