BOGACZYK: Numbers Down, but Cato's Play Speaks Loudly
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 27, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When your 242-pound running back tops his weight in rushing yardage in a football game – not to mention lands a school record – the tendency might be to overlook the other offensive performances.
However, do not underestimate the significance of Marshall star quarterback Rakeem Cato in the unbeaten Herd’s 35-16 home Conference USA victory Saturday over Florida Atlantic.
While junior back Devon Johnson rushed for a stunning 272 yards – a single-game total that ranks third in FBS this season – Cato engineered a 14th win in the last 15 games for Coach Doc Holliday’s team.
The senior from Miami had 13 pass completions – his fewest since getting the same number in a 23-22 victory at Memphis in November 2011 – in his freshman season in a game in which Marshall overcame six turnovers (to none for the Tigers) to win.
However, he was 13-of-24 for 218 yards, and had a touchdown to extend his NCAA major college streak of consecutive games with a scoring pass to 40. He also was only sacked once, and the Herd offense didn’t turn it over. Cato also had a 20-yard run, matching the fifth-longest of his college career.
The Owls’ defense took away some of Cato’s usual options, albeit while Johnson ran wild for four touchdowns – three of those of at least 58 yards. Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg said Cato’s patience and savvy stood out a night that pretty much belonged to Johnson.
"Rakeem did a really good job as a game manager," Legg said of Cato, who is 15-4 as a starter at Edwards Stadium. "There weren’t a lot of intermediate or short throws available tonight, so anytime you have to push the ball vertically down the field, on a consistent basis, your completion percentage is not going to be as high.
"And we talk about this. Hey, 10 and fewer (yards), you ought to be completing 90 percent of them. Between 10 and 20, we ought to be completing 75 percent of ‘em. The farther you go down the field, the percentage drops drastically.
"There’s a longtime study that balls over 50 yards are only completed on a 20-25 percent basis. The fact he completed over 50 percent of his balls, didn’t turn it over, managed the game, made good decisions, got us coming out of plays at times (with checks), I thought he played well."
Eight of Cato’s 13 completions in the game went for 13 or more yards, and five of those were for 20 or longer.
Cato’s pass efficiency rating is 160.1, which ranks No. 11 nationally – and is up from 147-and-change in his sophomore and junior seasons. And when the Herd – after an open date – visits Southern Miss (3-5, 1-3) on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. (ET), Cato figures to break Chad Pennington’s school career records for pass attempts and completions.
Pennington was 1,026-for-1,619 in his Herd career (1995, 1997-99). Cato (1,018-for-1,615) needs nine completions and five attempts to take those marks.
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Cato is still more than 800 yards away from Pennington’s Marshall mark of 13,143 passing yards, but the quarterback who led the Herd to three Mid-American Conference titles might soon lose his school record of 115 career touchdown passes.
Cato is at 111 TD passes. Pennington’s total includes eight TD passes in bowls, which at the time the NCAA didn’t include in "official" statistics. Marshall’s sports information department has counted those eight Pennington TD passes (as well as other bowl stats from those years) to create a consistency for comparison.
Cato also is on the verge of passing Pennington’s MU total offense record of 13,048 yards. The current Herd QB (12,918) needs 131 yards to eclipse Pennington.
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Johnson’s 272 rushing yards ranked third for a single game this season, trailing only Terrence Franks’ 284 for Texas State against Idaho on Oct. 4, and USF’s Marlon Mack, with 275 versus Western Carolina on Aug. 30.
Johnson’s 1,203 yards rank second nationally to the 1,249 by Nebraska senior Ameer Abdullah, and the junior from Richlands, Va., already ranks 10th in Marshall history in single-season rushing yardage. Nos. 6-9 have fewer than 1,300 yards – Erik Thomas (1,296 in 1996), Ron Darby (1,282 in 1988), Doug Chapman (1,238 in ’96) and Jackie Hunt (1,228 in 1940).
Johnson, who was the fastest in Herd history to 1,000 ground yards (eight games), now ranks second among all rushers during the Herd’s major college years (1953-81; 1997-present), behind Ahmad Bradshaw’s 1,523 yards in 2006.
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While the Herd failed to get to 40 on the scoreboard for the first time this season in its 35-16 win over Florida Atlantic, Marshall did remain the only team that has scored at least 35 points in every game this season. Holliday’s team is No. 3 in FBS in scoring offense (45.9 points per game), and only Oregon, with 50 touchdowns, has more than the Herd’s 49.
And while Marshall played its first turnover-free game of 2014 in the 12th straight home victory Saturday, the lack of giveaways is hardly anything new in Holliday’s five seasons as the Herd coach.
It seems the guys in the locker room are hearing his mantra of "protecting the football." In Holliday’s 59 games as coach, Marshall had had zero or one giveaway 31 times.
When the Herd wins the turnover margin under Holliday, it is 21-4, and it’s 9-4 when the turnovers are even. When Marshall loses the turnover battle, the record is only 5-16.