Sept. 16, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Tommy Shuler switched from No. 17 to 1 last week, and then the Marshall slot receiver went out and lived up to his new football jersey numeral.
With 13 receptions for 121 yards in Marshall's 27-24 loss Saturday night to unbeaten rival Ohio, Shuler took over a share of the Conference USA lead in pass receptions.
However, the connection the sophomore made that he deemed most important for Marshall (1-2) was one immediately after the Bobcats had beaten the Herd in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1979 and '80.
He tried to salve the soreness of quarterback Rakeem Cato - Shuler's sophomore classmate, his roommate, his pass-combination high school buddy from Miami.
Cato, the nation's FBS passing and total offense leader, had a record night in several ways at Edwards Stadium, but an interception by Ohio linebacker Jelani Woseley with 20 seconds left sealed the Herd's doom in the Battle for the Bell.
"It wasn't Rakeem," said Shuler, who with 24 receptions for 247 yards has those identical numbers to share the C-USA receptions lead with senior teammate Aaron Dobson. "We got it down the field, and that guy just made a heck of a play.
"Cato played a great game. He's been playing great this whole season. It's nothing on Cato, the guy just made a play, a big play."
Shuler said that just after he'd walked up from a somber Herd locker room. A few minutes later in the interview room, the 5-foot-8 Shuler said he'd try to make Cato grasp that a 44-for-65 night for 432 yards, three touchdowns and one pick wasn't worth putting in the waste basket.
"I told him downstairs, you win some, you lose some," Shuler said. "We've got to come out (Sunday) and get ready to play a conference game (at 1-2 Rice, Saturday afternoon). He played a great game.
"I said, `You can't hang your head because you made a lot of good plays. You played a good game and Ohio made a good play, so you can't hang your head on that one. You left it all out there on the field.' "That's how I felt. He was great."
What Shuler was selling, his Miami pal wasn't buying. Cato completed passes to 11 receivers - nothing new there in the Herd's spread-the-wealth passing game - and he broke single-game marks belonging to Herd legends like Byron Leftwich (completions in any game) and Chad Pennington (Edwards Stadium completions and attempts).
"We watched film, me and Rakeem," Shuler said. "I just went out there and found the holes in the defense. I watched film a lot and felt I could get to those holes in the defense. So, I knew when the ball was coming and when it wasn't coming.
"We came out and we got open. Some plays we executed, some we didn't, and that's just part of football."
Dobson had 11 receptions to go with Shuler's 13, giving the Herd two double-figure catchers for the first time since Josh Davis (an MU record-tying 15) and Brad Bates (11) did that in a 31-28 Rubber Bowl loss to Akron in 2004.
Only four receivers in Herd history - David Foye, Denero Marriott, Davis (15 each) and Mike Barber (14) have had more catches in a game than Shuler's 13, who had the most since senior teammate Antavious Wilson caught 13 in a 2009 loss to Southern Mississippi.
"We had to do whatever we had to do to try and win the game," Holliday said. "The kid is going to be a good player. Again, we can't turn it over, but I'm proud of him. He hurts. He's a hurtin' guy right now. He played his tail off, he's a young guy, and he'll learn from it, as well as our entire team, and we'll get better.
"Well, we had a lot of runs called, but (Cato) ended up throwing. We're going to take, regardless, what the defense gives us and they were giving us some slants and some bubbles and we were taking them.
"As long as we score points - and of course we didn't score enough today, it's obvious -- but as long as we continue to move the ball, I don't really care if we run it or throw it. But at some point you've got to do both and Cato did a good job getting us into the right call most of the time."
The Herd coach said Cato checked out of the running game a good amount of the time, but also added that his team needs to get fleet redshirt freshmen Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler into the backfield more.
"It wasn't a coach's decision. I think it was just the flow of the game. We got towards the end, a lot of pass plays, things that had to take place, and I think JaJuan (Seider, running backs coach) went with the two older kids ... felt they were a little more comfortable as far as pass (protection) goes."
Shuler said getting open is easier when defenses have to concern themselves with the receiving multiples the Herd has, like Dobson, Wilson and three quality tight ends.
"You've got to consider everyone on the field as dangerous," he said. "Cato just found me. There's a connection there, but it's more about going out and putting it on the line. It's not about stats for me. We need to win.
"It's a great feeling to have the kind of night I did. I don't go out and expect to catch a certain number. It's what's open. Rakeem can find the open guy, but this felt like pitch-and-catch. You play hard, work to get open, and he'll get you the ball. All of our guys know that."
Holliday also knows the Cato-to-Shuler connection will continue to provide offense for the Herd. It's why the program wanted to sign both Miamians.
"He makes plays," Holliday said of Shuler's big night. "We have several guys making plays. I'm sure there's a certain comfort zone there with Shuler, Cato, but it's also the call. He's throwing to where he's supposed to throw it.
"So, he's a good little player, but we've got some other good players, too. Unfortunately, there were a couple of plays there today that we didn't make that we normally make."
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Dobson's first quarter, 5-yard touchdown catch was the 23rd of his Herd career, which ranks second nationally among active FBS players to Robert Woods' 25 for Southern Cal. The senior receiver from Dunbar is tied with Cody Slate (2006-09), Davis (2001-04) and Tim Martin (1993-95) for fifth on the career Herd list, one behind fourth-place Troy Brown.
Wilson and Dobson rank 14th and 15th, respectively, on Marshall's career receptions list, with 133 and 132. Brown is 13th (139 in 1991 and '92). In receiving yards, Dobson has climbed to 11th in Herd history (1,966), with tight end Sean Doctor (1987, '88) at No. 10 with 2,100 yards. Wilson has 1,725 yards, in 13th place.