BOGACZYK: Herd Runs and Rolls Again, Over ODU
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 4, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
NORFOLK, Va. – Marshall football certainly is living up to the thundering part of it nickname.
After pretty much telling anyone who would listen all week that it intended to run the ball at Old Dominion, the Herd remained unbeaten by doing just that authoritatively – and more.
Marshall’s defense was dominant and ruined any Monarchs’ hopes by harassing senior star quarterback Taylor Heinicke into the worst passing day of his 13,000-yard passing career, limiting him to a collegiate-low 85 air yards on a 10-for-25 day that saw him intercepted by Herd cornerback Darryl Roberts and sacked five times.
Marshall rushed for 354 yards and the result was a one-sided 56-14 Conference USA victory for Marshall, leaving the Herd (5-0, 1-0) as the nation’s lone major-college team to score at least 40 points in each of its first five games in 2014.
"Fortunately, we’ve done that for five straight weeks," Herd Coach Doc Holliday said when asked about the Herd bolting to a 28-0 lead in fewer than 10 minutes. "We talk about starting fast and setting the tone for the game, and it’s unbelievable it’s the fifth straight game we’ve kicked off.
"I thought all three phases, to be honest with you, probably played the most complete game they’ve played all year."
Marshall got another stellar ground game from running backs Devon Johnson and Remi Watson. Each went over the 100-yard rushing mark for a second straight game and they combined for five touchdowns. The Herd’s 354 ground yards ranked ninth in school single-game history.
The 242-pound Johnson tractored to his fourth 100-yard game in five outings since moving to the backfield -- with 198 yards -- while Watson was strong in relief again with 102 yards.
Holliday said quarterback Rakeem Cato was lobbying for Johnson to get back in the game and have a shot at becoming the first Herd back with a 200-yard game since Darius Marshall went for 203 against Memphis in September 2009.
"Cato was trying to get me in there real quick, but we were up big and they didn’t want to take any chances so we just played it smart," Johnson said. "We had a bye week last week and I felt great and I had my best week of practice this week. It showed and it paid off."
In five games, Johnson has 680 yards in 85 carries, with eight touchdowns. The Herd already has eight 100-yard rushing games after getting only 10 of those in 14 games a year ago.
Marshall had 591 yards total offense – the 18th time it has had 500 or more in the last 31 games (since the 2012 opener) and the 19th time Marshall has scored 40 or more points in those 31 games.
ODU (3-3, 1-2) was the first team to score a first-half touchdown against the Herd this season – a Heinicke pass to Zach Paschal late in the first quarter – but there was very little for most in the 39th straight Foreman Field sellout crowd of 20,118 to cheer.
"We always come in with the idea to take what the defense gives us," Holliday said. "I know it sounds like I say that all the time, but it’s actually true. The majority of the plays we had called there were run-pass options, and the quarterback has the option of making the decision to hand it to the running back. Again, he continues to make great decisions."
Cato threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted twice, and on a 18-for-23 day, he extended one streak and had another halted.
His streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass climbed to 37 – second all-time behind the FBS record-holder, Russell Wilson, who had 38 at NC State and Wisconsin from 2009-11. Cato entered the game tied with Graham Harrell (Texas Tech, 2006-09), at 36 straight games with a TD pass.
Cato can tie the mark Saturday in the Herd’s noon Homecoming game against visiting Middle Tennessee (4-2, 3-0), a game that, like today, will be televised on FOX Sports Net. If he does that, he’ll go for the record in his hometown when the Herd visits FIU on Oct. 18 (6 p.m. ET, American Sports Network).
Meanwhile, with 198 yards passing, Cato failed to reach 200 air yards for the first time in his last 33 games. The last time he didn’t have 200 was Nov. 17, 2011 -- his freshman season – when he threw for 150 in a 23-22 win at Memphis.
"It doesn’t matter," Cato said. "Like I said from the start of the season, I haven’t made any stats that I wanted to achieve. I haven’t set any individual goals statistics-wise. I’m just playing to get a W. However we get the W, and I just try to put our team in the best situation to get a W."
His classmate and buddy from Miami, slot receiver Tommy Shuler, had a big day with nine catches for 81 yards and a 42-yard TD – and in the process passed two College Football Hall of Famers on Marshall career lists.
Shuler stands at 256 receptions, passing Mike Barber’s 249 catches (1985-88) for third place on the MU all-time list. And with 2,753 yards, Shuler passed Troy Brown’s 2,746 for No. 7 on the school’s career receiving yards list.
"The most important numbers right now are 5 and 0," Shuler said. "What most important is that we keep doing what we’ve been doing. That’s all that counts."
Marshall scored on eight of its first 11 possessions – and the other three ended with two picks of Cato and a fumble by receiver Craig Wilkins after a catch. Special teams made an early statement, too, as freshman linebacker Raheim Huskey got his second punt block of the season, with the recovery by running back Brandon Byrd for the Herd’s fourth touchdown.
As for the defense, Marshall gave ODU only five plays for 13 yards before a punt to open the game. In ODU’s 14 series, six were three-and-outs. Besides the unraveling of Heinicke with pressure, the Monarchs were only 5-of-19 on third and fourth downs.
ODU’s two star receivers – Pascal and Antonio Vaughan – entered the game with 60 catches. They combined for only four receptions and 44 yards.
"Against the pass, I’d say our game last year against East Carolina (a 59-28 Herd win to clinch the C-USA East Division) was outstanding," Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said when asked if helping Heinicke into his worst day was the Herd’s best defense in the veteran assistant’s two seasons. "Same kind of thing – good quarterback, good receivers.
"This day was right up there with that. We were out there challenging guys."
The return of oft-injured veteran corner Keith Baxter to the starting lineup "was really big," said Roberts, whose fifth career pick and 22-yard return set up the Herd’s third score. Roberts also broke up two passes.
"It was great we could limit a good quarterback with two good receivers like that to 85 yards passing," Roberts said. "It’s a credit to our grinding, how hard we work in practice, and what Coach Heater teaches."
Meanwhile, the Herd’s 42 first-half points were its highest scoreboard total in a half since getting 52 in the first half of a 66-21 home win over Buffalo in 2002.
Cato said the pass-conscious Old Dominion defense all but encouraged the Herd to run. So, led by Johnson, it took what was there.
"Every day he improves, every day," Cato said of the junior running back who was a tight end until preseason camp began. "It’s an attitude we’ve all got on the team. Attack the day. Attack practice. Try to get better at something you’re not, and you just keep improving, week-in, week-out."
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: Redshirt freshman Deon-Tay McManus made his debut at outside receiver, moving from a backup tight end spot to fill in for injured Davonte Allen. McManus made five catches for 55 yards, including a 6-yard scoring pass by Cato one play after McManus’ first career catch. It also was Cato’s 65th career red zone TD pass, to go with only three interceptions … When starting left guard Blake Brooks went down with a first-quarter injury, Sebastian Johansson filled the spot. Johansson was the starting left tackle until he missed the wins over Ohio and Akron with a high ankle sprain. Senior Trevor Mendelson played so well in Johansson’s relief, he kept the starting job. Johansson was the starting left guard in 2013 … Senior Justin Haig booted eight PATs, giving him 169 for his career and the No. 3 spot in C-USA history. At no. 2 is Jarod Tracy (Tulsa, 2005-08) at 194 … Cato played only three quarters but with 218 yards total offense, moved past Byron Leftwich for the No. 2 spot in Marshall career total offense. Cato has 12,089 yards. Leftwich had 12,084. Chad Pennington’s 13,048 is the MU total offense record … Cato’s two TD passes moved him to 103 for his career and 16th place in major college history, past former Central Michigan star Dan LeFevour (2006-09). At No. 15, with 107, is Tajh Boyd (Clemson, 2010-13). Cato is tops in TD passes on the FBS level for an active QB, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a distant No. 2 at 80.