BOGACZYK: Cato Gets NCAA Record; Herd Rolls to 6-0
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 11, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The big numbers continued to add up for Marshall on another football Saturday.
The Herd remained the only team in major college football to score at least 40 points in every game in 2014, as Coach Doc Holliday's unbeaten club rolled to a 49-24 Conference USA victory over Middle Tennessee on Homecoming at Edwards Stadium.
And while the Herd (6-0, 2-0) gained an 11th consecutive home win with a 20th performance of 500-yards-plus in the last 32 games, it was another consecutive streak that made the afternoon extra special.
With a 26-yard scoring pass in the first minute of the second quarter, Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato tied the NCAA major college record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. At 38 and counting, he's tied for the FBS record with Russell Wilson, who reached that number from 2009-11 at NC State and Wisconsin.
Only four NCAA quarterbacks have longer TD-game streaks, and all played at lower levels than the Herd senior from Miami, who heads to his hometown and a date at FIU next Saturday night with a chance to break the mark.
Of course, that's all background noise to Cato, who enjoys much more the notion that the Herd is unbeaten and has a chance on Sunday to make the national polls for the first time since the 2002 Herd finished an 11-2 season after as GMAC Bowl win over Louisville at Nos. 19 (coaches) and 24 (AP media) in the final polls.
"It's a blessing to tie Russell Wilson," Cato said of the QB who led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl XLVIII title last winter. "I think Russell's a great quarterback; he's someone I look at on my own time. I just want to thank Coach (Doc) Holliday and Coach (Bill) Legg for putting me in the position week-in, week-out so I can throw it to those guys.
"It's not just me. Look at my offensive line. They do a heck of a job, improving every day, getting better. The will on our offensive side of the ball, all the guys, thanks to them. Without those guys, there's no consecutive touchdown passes thrown.
"I get to be around a good group of guys, and as long as I can do that, I'll keep achieving minor records and minor goals."
The Herd had 589 yards total offense against the Blue Raiders (4-3, 3-1) - a team most Herd players regarded the best team MU has faced. Cato was a pedestrian - for him - 17-of-33 passing for 337 yards and three touchdowns. The Herd's only two turnovers were a Cato interception and fumble.
The Herd was again without injured outside receiver Davonte Allen and lost freshman Angelo Jean-Louis to a rib injury in the first quarter. But Cato kept on pitching, hitting fellow senior Wilkins for two scores among seven pass catchers.
"I'm very proud to be part of that record; I've been around Cato a long time," said Wilkins, the Hialeah, Fla., native who led Marshall with five catches for 77 yards. "Hopefully he'll be able to break it next week, down at home. That would be a very special moment there."
Cato certainly wasn't the whole story for the Herd.
Running back Devon Johnson tractored his way through the Blue Raiders for 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was his fifth 100-yard ground game in six this season. Johnson now has 11 rushing touchdowns on the season. The last Herd back with more was Ahmad Bradshaw's 19 in 2006.
And the Herd defense was strong again when it counted most, Middle Tennessee was only 3-of-14 on third down conversions.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt had 14 Herd tackles, the most for a Marshall player since D.J. Hunter turned in 18 in the double-overtime loss at East Carolina to end the 2012 season. Safety A.J. Leggett had his third interception of the season, as the Herd played with a verve rooted in last season's 51-49, last-play loss at Middle.
"We went out with the mindset we weren't going to let that happen again," Hewitt said. "That's how we set the tone. We want to go out there first and get a stop and turn it over to the offense."
And that's what Holliday's team has pretty much done, with the MU defense on the field for the first series in all six games. The results?
On those first series, the six foes have gained 7, minus-7, 84, 36, 13 and minus-1 yards - or 132 yards in 30 plays. The 84 was Ohio's first drive on Sept. 14 - and 53 of those came on the first play of the game, but the Herd stiffened in the red zone and the Bobcats missed a 19-yard field goal.
While opponents have gotten zero points from those drives (five punts and a missed FG), the Marshall offense has followed with 31 points -- four touchdowns and a field goal in the last five games, after punting on its first possession in an opening triumph at Miami (Ohio), where the Herd scored a TD the second time it had the ball.
"They are playing extremely well," Holliday said of the Herd defense. "We put them in a bad situation in the second half and it is not acceptable ... They are well coached; they tackle well. They are athletic and can run. I thought some guys stepped up today. We had some injuries, and we had some other guys step up. That is what good football teams do."
The Herd is 12-1 since that loss last season at Middle Tennessee - the C-USA title game defeat at Rice last December -- and Leggett said one reason for that is Holliday's team "knows how to handle adversity when we face it now. We just need to keep on doing what we're doing, playing hard, playing together."
Holliday said he's "excited about where we are at this point ... This football team is a special bunch. These kids like each other. They are fun to be around. They care about each other. That is why we are good.
"They trust each other and when something happens to one of them, it hurts all of them. They think a lot of each other, they trust each other, they care about each other, and that's why we are playing the way we are."
Legg, the Herd's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, called Cato's NCAA record-tying day "cool," but said the reason the senior QB is the kind of player who can reach such achievements is that Cato can compartmentalize.
"The most important thing is we're 1-0 this week, and 6-0 on this season and he's going to tell you the same thing," the veteran Herd coordinator said. "That record? Somewhere down the line we'll sit down and look back and we'll reminisce and we'll talk about `Wow, that's very impressive, very impressive, you know?' Right now, it's about 1-0 to make us 6-0.
"The best thing he did is manage the game, took what they gave him. He forced one or two things, which I got on him on the phone (prom the coaches' box upstairs) a little bit, but you're always going to have one of those once in a while. You're never going to be perfect; you'd like for it to be, but none of us is perfect.
"Still, it was awfully good decision-making, putting us in the right play. He checked a number of times today that made a huge difference, whether it was getting a first down, creating a big play or putting the ball into the end zone. The (second) TD pass to Craig, that was Rakeem's (call).
"He does the things you want your quarterback to do, from the neck up. And all the stuff from the neck down is between what God gave him and all of the hard work he's put into it. That shines, because of what he's doing from the neck up. The thing that I'm most proud of Rakeem doing is and I'm most pleased with is what he does from the neck down, managing things."
Holliday's reference point on Cato wasn't so much a guy who has won a Super Bowl, but two quarterbacks who were the two to guide Marshall teams that had the kind of season like this one.
"I've said it many times, how proud I am of what this kid has accomplished," Holliday said. "He took some criticism early on, but the people who criticized him didn't know him. He is a tremendous kid.
"Where he has come from and overcome it is unbelievable for him, and he deserves everything he gets because he is great for Marshall University. Look what has come from Marshall. You talk about Chad Pennington and Byron (Leftwich), and now you can put Cato in those same words and terms. It is just unbelievable. I am glad he is on our team."
And Cato is glad he is part of the Herd.
"It's a blessing," Cato said of the opportunity to take the NCAA record in his own backyard next week. "But we're going down there for a business trip. It's not about my record. It's about one thing, and that's getting a W.
"If I get the record, that would be a great deal, but if I don't, just get the W. If I don't get the record but we get the win, I'll stay a proud man, still the same quarterback like I am every week."
SEEN `N' HERD: The only quarterbacks in NCAA history with longer consecutive games with a TD streak than Cato and Wilson are Mike Reilly, Central Washington, 2005-08 (Division II record), with 46; Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross, 2006-09 (FCS record), with 42; Bill Borchert, Mount Union, 1994-97 (Division III record), with 40; and Jimmy Terwilliger, East Stroudsburg, 2003-06 (former Division II record), with 39 ... With his 342 yards total offense, Cato moved first past Tim Tebow into the FBS top 30 for career yards (12,431) and then before the game was over, had also passed Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech, Austin Davis of Southern Miss, Trevor Vittatoe of UTEP and Ryan Lindley of San Diego State, to No. 26. He is within range of passing two big names next week - Robert Griffin III and Drew Brees. Cato also moved to No. 3 in C-USA history in career total offense ... Herd football is getting plenty of attention around the world. Steve Cotton, the "Voice of the Herd," said after Saturday's game that the IMG/Thundering Herd "TuneIn" app had broadcast listeners in Mongolia and Barcelona, Spain ... Each team had two turnovers. Holliday's five Herd teams are 28-8 when they win or tie in turnover margin, and 5-16 when they have more TOs ... The Herd has outscored opponents 173-30 in first halves this season ... Slot receiver Tommy Shuler had three catches for 65 yards ... Linebacker Jermaine Holmes had the Herd's only sack, but tackle James Rouse had three QB hurries ... Marshall opponents are only 24-for-92 on third down conversions (.261 percentage) and 3-for-14 on fourth down (.214). Both numbers are in the top 20 nationally ... Marshall's 589 yards total offense included 22 plays of 10 or more yards.