BOGACZYK: FIU Starts, but Herd, Cato Finish on Record Night
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 19, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
MIAMI – It was a warm Saturday night for a reckoning, then a night for an NCAA football record.
And by the time Marshall’s thundering past host Florida International for a 45-13 Conference USA victory was complete, it was a night on which the Herd added to some impressive streaks.
In front of family, friends, former high school and peewee coaches and teammates as part of a crowd of about 1,000 Herd supporters at FIU Stadium, senior quarterback Rakeem Cato grabbed the Football Bowl Subdivision all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass in his hometown.
Cato’s 39th game with a scoring pass – a 1-yarder to freshman tight end Ryan Yurachek with 5 seconds left in the first quarter – wasn’t achieved, however, until the Panthers (3-5, 2-2) had become the first team to lead nationally ranked Marshall (7-0, 3-0) this season.
By the finish, Coach Doc Holliday’s team had another rout, bolting from a tenuous 14-7 halftime lead with 31 second-half points despite only 9:42 time of possession. By the finish, it was the 13th straight regular-season game in which the Herd has scored at least 40 points, as Marshall remained the only major college team to reach that scoreboard number in every game this season.
Now, with an eight-game win streak – only No. 2 Florida State (23) and top-ranked Mississippi State (nine) have longer victory runs – the Herd brings its 11-game home winning streak into Edwards Stadium on Saturday against Florida Atlantic (3-4, 2-1).
At FIU, the Herd found itself in arrears for the first time since early in the fourth quarter of its 2013 Military Bowl win over Maryland when Panther freshman quarterback Alex McGough scored on a 1-yard run at 2:00 of the first quarter.
However, Marshall trailed for only 1 minute, 55 seconds, as Cato found Yurachek for a third-down score after running back Devon Johnson had rumbled 71 yards to the FIU 3 to begin answering the FIU opening salvo.
"That’s a very good football team, good defense, very athletic," Holliday said. "And we didn’t tackle very well in the first half … You know, I’m glad that (the early FIU lead and tight first half) happened. There was a little adversity there in the first half, but our kids came out in the second half, played extremely well, and that was great to see.
"I thought we went into the locker room at halftime and there were no worried looks on anybody’s faces. They knew what they had to do … The coaches don’t need to say a whole lot at this point. They understand they want to be a great football team, understand what’s at stake.
"The bottom line is seeing how your team responds be able to overcome the adversity. There was no panic. I thought our kids came out, worked in the second half, and played like they have been playing."
Johnson’s preseason move from tight end to the backfield continues to pay major dividends. The 243-pound junior ran for a game-high 117 yards – his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season – and also led MU receivers with three catches for 79 yards, two for scores.
Running back Stew Butler finished the Herd scoring with a 61-yard gallop, as the Herd gained 243 ground yards on only 26 attempts. That 9.3-yards-per-rush average ranks fourth in a game in school history …. And all in the top five in that category have come in the past two seasons.
Marshall had 12 plays of 10 or more yards in the game and still leads the country in plays of 20 or more yards (55) and 30 or more (31).
Defensively, Marshall got second-half interceptions from tackle Jarquez Samuel and cornerback Corey Tindal, the latter motoring his first career pick back for a 30-yard touchdown.
"Games like this – it was tough at first – that brings us together and it definitely will help us down the road," said Herd linebacker Neville Hewitt, who had eight tackles, including two sacks. "We haven’t had a game this close all season (in the first half), really, and so this is going to help us honestly see where we are as a team.
"Defensively, I think we had a pretty good game, but we had a lot of missed tackles early, but we got it together and played a good game in the second half."
On special teams, Holliday’s team also got a field goal block by defensive tackle Ricardo Williams and a nifty 34-yard punt return by fellow Miamian Tommy Shuler. Punter Tyler Williams punted three times – all in the first quarter – for a 50.7-yard average.
"We got two big-time turnovers, the Shuler return, blocked field goals, Tyler punted well," Holliday said. "I thought we were good in all three phases once we got things going."
A defensive number illustrates that flip in the game. FIU posted 174 yards total offense in the first quarter, but only 211 over the final three quarters, despite having a time-of-possession bulge of 16:18 and 32 more snaps than Marshall.
The Herd offense ran only 53 plays – nearly 25 below its average entering the game. But the Herd is averaging 7.75 yards per play this season – which leads major college football.
Cato’s career touchdown responsibility is at 122, a Marshall record, topping the 119 for Chad Pennington in 1995 and ’97-99.
Cato also separated himself from Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson twice on the night.
Cato had tied Wilson’s FBS consecutive TD-pass games mark the previous week and went solo with it in the win over the Panthers. And in throwing for four touchdowns to get to 110 for his career, he passed Wilson’s 109 at NC State and Wisconsin (2008-11).
"How about Cato, guys?" Holliday asked the media after the win. "That’s a record that may never be broken. That’s a heckuva record and if anybody deserves it, that man does. To come down here to Miami and do that in front of his family -- 15 minutes from where he grew up -- that’s special."
The rookie Yurachek was grateful to be the guy on the receiving end of the FBS record-breaker, less than a week after Cato had joked he wanted a 99-yarder to the freshman tight end for the NCAA mark.
"Well, I felt like he’s thrown one in 38 games to somebody else so to get the 39th, it was pretty special," said Yurachek, who got his first career TD catch with the reception. "That record probably won’t be broken for a while, so it’s pretty cool to be in the record books.
"I don’t know about a 99-yarder, but I knew it was possible, and I guess it’s kind of funny that it actually turned out to be me … pretty awesome."
Cato said he felt the record scoring pass took a weight off his shoulders.
"I did; I did," said the Herd QB, who also passed former MU star Byron Leftwich for No. 2 on the school’s career passing yards list. "Once I threw the touchdown, I felt like everything was back to normal, run the offense again, and I’ve got to just focus.
"But it was a lot of pressure taken off me. I knew how much I wanted it. I knew how much my teammates wanted it for me … I don’t know how many (family members and supporters) were here, but it was a lot. A lot. It was a blessing in front of all of my family. I saw all of my nieces and nephews. My daughter was here. My sister … My uncles, aunts a bunch came from out of town. My grandfather was here.
"(Playing in his hometown) was no pressure, just a lot of excitement. Every time I’d come to the sidelines, looking into the stands, seeing everybody there, taking my mind and looking at my family and how really thankful I was for a lot of them to come and watch me play for the first time."
And they picked a night to remember for Rakeem and the Herd.
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: Marshall’s 11-game home win streak is a number shared by Florida State and Michigan State. Only Baylor, Alabama and Auburn, with 13 consecutive home wins, have longer streaks. Ole Miss also matches the Herd’s eight-game overall win streak … Senior center Chris Jasperse made his team-leading 46th career start (every game he’s played at MU), tied for most among active offensive linemen in FBS. The Marshall record for starts – as an FBS program (1953-81 and 1997-present) -- is 52 by OT Steve Sciullo (1999-2002) … The Herd defense’s "tribute" to injured linebacker Evan McKelvey had sophomore safety Tiquan Lang – who usually wears No. 21 – in McKelvey’s No. 31 at FIU. McKelvey suffered a knee injury in the win at Old Dominion and is out for the season … When FIU opened the scoring, it was the first time the Herd trailed since early in fourth quarter of the Military Bowl. An Essray Taliaferro 7-yard run with 12:05 left gave the Herd the lead for good, 24-20, in what became a 31-20 win … Only three NCAA quarterbacks in history (all in lower divisions) have longer consecutive games with a TD pass than Cato: 46 for Mike Reilly, Central Washington, 2005-08 (Division II record); 42 for Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross, 2006-09 (FCS record); and 40 for Bill Borchert, Mount Union, 1994-97 (Division III record). Also at 39 with Cato is Jimmy Terwilliger, East Stroudsburg, 2003-06 (former Division II record) … Johnson has rushed for 931 yards this season and his 71-yard run to set up Marshall’s first TD is the longest in his short backfield career … Johnson’s six 100-yard rushing games this season (91 in his other game, versus Ohio) is one shy of the MU mark as a major-college program. Ahmad Bradshaw (2006) and Darius Marshall (2008) share that record with seven 100-yarders in a season. The Marshall overall record is 10, three times by Chris Parker (the 1993, ’94 and ’95 seasons, all in Division I-AA) … Butler’s 61-yard run matched the second-longest of his career …Williams’ block of a second-quarter FIU field goal attempt is the 22nd blocked kick in Holliday’s five Marshall seasons. It is the first field goal block by the Herd since James Rouse blocked a Virginia Tech attempt in September 2013.